Some car accidents are caused by pedal error. A pedal error is when the driver steps on the accelerator when he or she actually meant to hit the brake pedal. While these accidents are generally low-speed crashes, they can seriously hurt pedestrians or bicyclists. They can also involve storefronts. Drivers who cause them may have to retake a driver’s license examination.
How often do pedal errors cause a car accident?
An estimated 16,000 car accidents are caused by pedal errors every year.1 This means that pedal errors cause 44 crashes every day.
This number is just an estimate, though. It is based on crash data from North Carolina. A study of that data found 2,411 crashes happened between 2004 and 2008, or around 480 per year, because the driver admitted to using the wrong pedal.2 Extrapolated nationally, this leads to the estimate of 16,000 per year.
However, the estimate is likely to be an understatement.3 The data it is based on is limited to crashes that produced a police report, and where the driver admitted to using the wrong pedal. Many pedal errors produce minor accidents that cause very little damage and no injuries, so police are not called to the scene. In many others, the driver does not admit to making a pedal error. These accidents would not be included in the estimate. As a result, the true number of these accidents is likely to be even higher.
Where do these accidents generally occur?
Pedal error crashes tend to happen in parking lots.
One study that looked at pedal error crashes that were reported in the media found that 77 percent of them happened in parking lots or in driveways.4 The crash data from North Carolina, however, indicated that 57 percent of them happened in parking lots or driveways.5
Many of the remaining traffic accidents happened at:
- intersections, and
- highway exit ramps.
These are both areas where drivers switch from using one pedal to the other while they are distracted by their surroundings.
Can pedal misapplications cause building crashes?
Pedal errors can also cause building crashes, where a motor vehicle collides into a building. Pedal errors cause more of these types of crashes than car accidents. One estimate claims that there are around 100 building crashes every day, annually causing:
- 16,000 injuries, and
- 2,600 deaths per year.6
Pedal error is the leading cause for these building crashes, accounting for an estimated 35 percent of them.7
These accidents generally happen when the driver is either:
- pulling into a parking space in front of a building and hits the gas pedal instead of the brake, or
- backing from a parking space in front of the building and has mistakenly put the vehicle into drive rather than reverse.
What can cause a pedal error?
Pedal errors can happen in a variety of ways. Many of them are caused by:
- drivers who have forgotten where their foot was,
- tight or confined pedal placement,
- drivers that want to switch from the accelerator to the brake but who press down on the gas pedal in the process of changing,
- the driver’s foot slipping from the edge of the brake and onto the gas,
- the driver hitting both the brake and the accelerator pedal at the same time, and
- bad footwear, like high heels, flip flops, heavy boots, or thick flat-soled shoes, that cause the driver to lose his or her grip on the pedal.
Any of these issues can lead to a pedal application that provides a surprising and sudden acceleration. Because these motorists were expecting to get a braking force rather than full-throttle speed, they can cause a serious auto accident.
What drivers are most prone to making pedal errors?
Very young drivers and very old drivers are more likely to make pedal errors. In addition to these risky age groups, studies also show that women tend to make more pedal errors than men.
While drivers under 20 years old accounted for just over 3 percent of all crashes, they caused nearly 18 percent of pedal error accidents. A lack of familiarity with the vehicle and the muscle memory that only comes with hours of driving could be the cause. Drivers over the age of 70 were also overrepresented in their share of pedal error accidents.8
Surprisingly, studies also showed that the driver in nearly two-thirds of all pedal error accidents were women. According to the NHTSA, possible causes are that women:
- do more driving in parking lots then men do, where pedal error accidents tend to occur, and
- are smaller and so tend not to fill the driving space in a vehicle, creating difficulties in reaching the pedals.9
Who can be held liable for injuries caused by unintended acceleration?
The party who is at fault or is responsible for a motor vehicle accident can be held liable for it. Drivers who make pedal errors, even if they only do so accidentally, are still more at-fault than the innocent person that they hit and hurt.
Generally, victims of these car accidents can recover compensation from the car insurance company of the driver who made the pedal mistake. Victims often have to file an insurance claim against the driver’s liability insurance policy. This is especially important for victims who suffer serious injuries in the accident, most commonly:
- pedestrians, and
In some cases, though, the poor design or manufacture of the pedal system could be the cause of the crash. This can lead to a products liability claim against the vehicle manufacturer.
Victims should strongly consider hiring a personal injury lawyer from a reputable law firm to recover the compensation they deserve.
Can drivers face license problems for causing a crash with a pedal error?
In some cases, drivers who make a pedal error that causes a car crash can face challenges to their driver’s license. This is especially true for older drivers. A pedal error can be interpreted as a sign that they are losing their ability to drive safely.
In some states, police officers who respond to the accident can report the incident to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The DMV can then require the driver to re-examine for their driver’s license. If they fail this re-examination, they can lose their right to drive.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “Denial of Motor Vehicle Defect Petition,” (May 1, 2015) (page 21).
- NHTSA, “Driver Brake and Accelerator Controls and Pedal Misapplication Rates in North Carolina,” (May 2015).
- See note 1.
- NHTSA, “Pedal Error Crashes,” (April 2012).
- See note 2.
- Storefront Safety Council, “Statistics.”
- See note 1.
- See note 4.