Smaller and older drivers more likely to experience pedal confusion | Fieldfisher
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Smaller and older drivers more likely to experience pedal confusion

Jennifer Kelly currently represents 17 clients injured after a defendant driver pressed the accelerator rather than the brake.

The difference between application error - where a driver presses the wrong pedal but quickly corrects their error - and pedal confusion is that in the latter, the driver doesn't realise their mistake and instead presses the accelerator harder, often with catastrophic consequences. 

16 of my current cases involving application error arise from pedal confusion.  In the 17th case, the driver accelerated into the car in front at traffic lights, crushing my client. That driver admitted they pressed the wrong pedal, therefore making it unlikely to be pedal confusion.

In other cases, the duration of the acceleration can be enduring, and devastating. There is the instance where a parent pressed the accelerator while parking outside a summer camp, ploughing into a group of children waiting to be collected. This acceleration lasted for 8 seconds before the car finally crashed into another vehicle and came to a halt. 

Another case involves a driver involved in a very minor rear-end shunt at a roundabout, and then accelerated along the driveway and into the large window and wall of a family's living room, before being stopped by the reinforced doorway at the other side of the room.

Incidents of pedal confusion are often cited as 'uncommon' but we regularly hear it anecdotally cited in road traffic crashes

The police in the UK have no way to include it as the cause of a collision and instead it is often categorised as 'loss of control', or a driver who genuinely believes they were pressing the correct pedal, puts the acceleration down to a fault with the car and so does not report confusion as the cause.

Research suggests that pedal confusion is caused by panic, by efference copy theory where the brain refuses to acknowledge the message that we're pressing the wrong pedal because of stored memory, and disorientation following an action like turning to put a bag on the back seat. 

But smaller drivers with smaller shoe size are more likely to be involved in this type of incident, meaning it disproportionately effects women, as are older drivers perhaps with slower reaction times, cognitive or medical issues, such as numbness in their limbs. 

Automatic vehicles, where the left foot is not on the clutch, and electric and hybrid vehicles without engine and revving noise are also more frequently involved.

Recommendations, since at least the 1980s, appear to have had little impact on the phenomenon. New technology does seem to be helping, with most of the vehicles involved in these incidents being more than 10 years old.  

Recent research involving Transport for London bus drivers suggested different lights illuminating when the accelerator and brake are pressed, but this was deemed to have low effectiveness.

Ultimately, as is often the case, targeted driver campaigns to inform people about the risk of unintended acceleration and what they can do to protect themselves and other road users is most likely the best action.

Read about our road traffic accident claims and hear from clients.