Pedal error – i.e. pressing the wrong pedal – is a phenomenon that occurs more regularly than many people would expect. It is typically associated with automatic cars, though it can happen in any vehicle if the driver removes their feet from the pedals. As we cannot see into the footwell, we can lose orientation of our foot and become reliant on touch and learned behaviour of where we expect the correct pedal to be.
Ultimately, the error is all in the mind and centred around the ‘efference and reafference system’. Take the example of approaching a junction. The brain sends a message to press on the brake pedal and the foot replies to confirm the action has been performed. The brain compares this feedback to its initial request and confirms the action is as expected.
In reality, the foot is pressing on the accelerator by mistake. Our vestibular-ocular system (balance and sight) informs the brain that we are in fact getting faster and sends the instruction to press the pedal harder. The foot does so as it believes it is in the right place doing the right thing and there is no feedback to suggest otherwise. The incorrect sustained use of the accelerator can be catastrophic.
There is a debate as to whether this error constitutes careless or dangerous driving. Here at the TRL Expert Witness & Investigations Team, we are promoting awareness of pedal error – also known as Sudden Acceleration Syndrome Hypothesis (SASH) – and encouraging improved clarity on the legal implications to aid court processes.
Any questions? Contact us!