Although vehicle accidents caused by factors such as drinking or distraction may be more familiar to the public, the lesser-known cause of pedal error causes close to 16,000 crashes per year. That’s roughly 44 pedal error–related crashes every day.
Pedal error is defined as a driver intending to step on the brake, but stepping on the gas pedal instead. As a result, the vehicle accelerates quickly.
Although pedal error can take place anywhere, it usually occurs at low speeds, such as when a vehicle is parking or slowing down for an exit. Because of the space and configurations of parking lots and exit ramps, drivers often cannot correct in time to prevent an accident.
Research shows that some 40% of pedal error-related accidents involve motorists crashing into commercial buildings such as restaurants and retail stores.
Causes of Pedal Error
Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a safety advisory to raise awareness of pedal error and decrease the number of incidents. Crashes cause serious injury and damage to motorists, pedestrians, vehicles, and other property. They are entirely preventable.
Pedal error occurs for three primary reasons:
- The driver mistakes the gas pedal for the brake
- The driver’s foot slips from the brake to the gas pedal
- The driver intends to step on the brake, but steps on both the brake and gas pedal instead
The NHTSA studied pedal-related data from North Carolina, currently the only state to compile data on pedal error. The data showed that drivers younger than 20 and those 65 and older were four times more likely to commit pedal errors while behind the wheel.
Approximately half of pedal error–related crashes take place when drivers are backing up or turning their vehicles, suggesting that changes in the position of the driver contribute to accidents.
It also showed that specific vehicle makes were associated with a higher number of crashes. Certain model years of Honda Accords, for example, had a higher incidence rate than other types of vehicles.
How to reduce risk of pedal error
The NHTSA advises that drivers take the following steps to avoid a pedal error accident.
- Wear appropriate shoes for driving. Avoid shoes that could cause your feet to slip off the brake such as flip-flops, high heels and heavy boots.
- Familiarize yourself with the brake and gas pedal locations of the car you will be driving. Muscle memory of hitting the brake can take over in the case of accident.
- Don’t drive distracted. Checking messages or texting is not to be done as you’re parking or pulling into a parking lot, or any time you’re driving a vehicle.