Female, Elderly Drivers More Likely to Confuse Gas and Brake Pedals: NHTSA Report

on April 17 2012 8:57 AM
Woman driver
Young women drivers have to shell out more on their motor insurance premium from December 21, 2012. Press Association

Women account for almost two-thirds of car-crashes caused by pedal application errors, mixing up the gas pedal and brake, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report filed in March concluded.

The NHTSA estimated that there are approximately 15 incidents of crashes caused by pedal application errors per month in the U.S., and a majority of them are caused by women. Likewise, drivers in pedal application error caused accidents are more likely to be younger than 21 or older than 75.

Car crashes caused by pedal application errors can be deadly, as evidenced by a 2003 crash in Santa Monica, Cali., when an older driver accidentally accelerated into an outdoor market, killing 10 and injuring another 63. The man had intended to brake, and when the car began to accelerate he pumped the accelerator pedal, believing it was the brake, the report said.

The most consistent finding across data sources was the striking overrepresentation of females in pedal misapplication crashes, relative to their involvement in all types of crashes. Females were the drivers in nearly two-thirds (emphasis NHTSA) of the pedal misapplication crashes identified, the report said.

Women substantially outnumber men in accidents caused by confusing the gas and brake pedals, despite the fact that men account for 60 percent of all crashes, the report said.

The report detailed several reasons why women may be more likely to have accidents as a result of confusing the gas and brake. Possible causes include the fact that most crashes of this type take place in parking lots, where women spend more time driving, that women do not fit as well into driver's seats due to shorter stature, or because of higher rates of functional deficits like neuropathy.

Less surprising, however, was the finding that younger and older drivers are somewhat more likely to have accidents because of mixing-up the gas and brake pedals. Younger and older drivers may display poor executive function because relevant areas of the brain have either not yet fully developed or have begun to decay with age, the report said.

Over 17 percent of accidents caused by confusing the gas and brake were caused by drivers 76 and older, while more than 16 percent were caused by drivers under 20. Driver inattention was found to be one of the most common causes of pedal misapplication. Likewise, drivers who were suddenly startled were also found to be more likely to make the mistake.

The report reviewed data going back as far as 1980 from multiple databases and surveys. The NHTSA also consulted with a panel of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists to discuss medical conditions and functional deficits that could increase the occurrence of pedal application errors. The total number of accidents caused by mixing up the pedals is likely underreported, the NHTSA concluded.

The NHTSA concluded that greater efforts should be made to educate doctors and law enforcement officers about the effects of neuropathy. Likewise, the report called for better educating the public to shift cars undergoing unintended acceleration into neutral.

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