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Wrong Pedal? I Wonder Why ...

Women drivers—specifically really young ones and really old ones—are more likely than other drivers to cause collisions by putting a foot wrong. Or so says a recent report from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The study found that women—more specifically 20- and 76-year olds—were disproportionately likely to tromp on the accelerator when they aimed for the brake. Thus crashing, most often in parking lots. 

The report seemed almost apologetic, like they expected to get yelled out for politically incorrectness. But I nod in easy belief for many reasons. First the young women: my evidence is anecdotal but I give good anecdote so trust me. Girls are better students than boys. They also tend to have confidence in what they learn. They’ve been attentive in driver’s-ed and, bless their naïve little hearts, are positive they now know How to Drive.

A single anecdote: a friend riding with such a daughter offered a suggestion (really a plea) which was rejected with: “Da-aad, I know what I’m doing!” My friend told me that all has daughter knew was foot hard on the brake or hard on the gas. Such conviction cannot imagine error. Car doesn’t slow when the “brake” is pushed? Push harder.

Another thing, what is this 20-year-old wearing on her driving feet? I’d like to see accident reports include that information. Flip-flops? Quite possible. And quite hazardous. Or maybe stiletto heels or platform sandals. Not ideal for sensing what one’s feet are doing in pedal land.

Now for the older segment. When “unintended acceleration” first came into our ken years ago drivers most often involved were found to be short of stature. (Stretching to depress the pedals?) Also many had recently changed from one model car to another. (Unfamiliarity with pedal location?)

Now consider this. Even if the older women are driving a car they’ve had for years their relationship to the pedals could well be new to them. Experience speaking here. One day I got into my ’93 Sidekick and became aware that my steering wheel was fuzzily – annoyingly—encroaching into my field of vision. The wheel is not adjustable. Little is in an old Suzuki.

What had happened? My condensing spine, yielding to mounting years of gravity, had reached a Notice Point. Like the wicked witch I was “shrinking, shrinking!” So I bought a wedge-shaped cushion for the car seat and, sigh, was elevated back to normality. No bothersome steering wheel intrusion and my chin boldly level again. And thus my eyes looking, not peering. (Level, dear driver, is of critical importance for proper placement of the horizon. A proper horizon helps you nail your turns. Doubt me not.)

My Suzuki seating, being kitchen-chair upright, created no problems for me with the pedals, but in most cars old-age shrinkage can change a driver’s positioning vis a vis brake and accelerator. If you have a shrinking old lady in your family check out her relationship to the pedals as she drives. Particularly as she backs up, a maneuver frequent in parking lots. Is there tippy-toeing? An uncertainty as to which pedal her feet are contacting? She could be at risk for wrong-footing and hitting something.

For your daughter, insist on appropriate footwear (she can keep driving shoes in the car) and give her some pedal-awareness exercises. For your Mom or Auntie Doodah, get her into a car that fits. (Recognize that adjustments on many seats are inadequate.) And for everyone, use this remedy for unintended acceleration: “If what you’re doing doesn’t work—stop doing it.” 


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thanks for posting this online, so many more readers can access it who aren’t magazine subscribers.

My appreciation!


Posted by Jesse on October 15, 2012

As always, well said by Denise. When teaching my daughter to drive (now 17, so still teaching), I insisted that she have “driving shoes” in the car. Thankfully that made sense to her and she keeps them in there and I see her change into them when she leaves. However, I see many of her friends show up with all types of shoes that I don’t know how they walk in, let alone, drive in.

Posted by Dave on October 18, 2012


I came across your book, “By Brooks…”, today while cleaning out my nightstand. Yes, I keep it there, though I hadn’t visited it for awhile. I got it from a mutual friend of ours, Decker Weil (now Decker Swan or Swann, I think). I was her co-driver in the revival of the New Mexico rally, what was it called, Las Millas Encantadas…something like that? Decker had the white BMW 328.

To my good fortune, I ended up seated next to you at the awards banquet. I’ve thought of you often, when I re-read a chapter of your book at 3:00 in the morning, when I hear of a young woman driver who shows promise, or when I’m just passing through Santa Fe.

I hope you are doing well, and driving something that holds your interest. I would be most pleased and honored to hear from you. If you find yourself in Colorado Springs (I know you were here for a Broadmoor concours a few years back; I couldn’t get tickets) please give me a call.

Most sincerely,

Lee J. Dahle

Posted by Lee J. Dahle on October 26, 2012






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