Mistaking the gas pedal for the brake pedal

Aging drivers

How can a driver mistake the gas for the brake?

I could not rationalize this explanation after reading another news story where a senior in a parking lot drove into a building with significant force.

Surely the driver must have known that this was going to happen and could have prevented it.

A bit of research found Dr. Normand Teasdale at Laval University in Quebec. He has studied this phenomenon and explained to me that as we age, our ability to know exactly where our body is in space declines along with our ability to quickly and smoothly move our feet from the gas to the brake. Add peripheral nerve problems and the driver's ability to feel where their feet are also declines.

The ultimate result is that the driver may genuinely believe that their right foot is pressing on the brake when it is really still on the gas.

Shouldn't a person know that this problem is going to occur?

Teasdale likened it to a senior with a balance problem that causes falls. Until a fall occurs, and then further falls indicate something is wrong, the person will not know it is a problem rather than an accident. The first crash caused by mistaking the gas for the brake could be genuine driver error.

I also consulted a driver examiner. He told me he watches pedal operation carefully when he examines a driver, regardless of their age. If the driver has difficulty with proper foot positioning and pedal operation, they will not be able to pass a driving exam.

Teasdale suggested that type of collision is not as common in Europe as it is here in North America. His hypothesis is that may be because European vehicles tend to have manual transmissions and drivers are used to using both feet when they drive. That may help them to locate the pedals more accurately.

The stereotypical pedal error crash involves a senior driving through a parking stall and into a building.

That may not be the case as a study in the U.S. found a higher instance of these collisions among the 20- to 24-year-old driver age group.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

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