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We had a traffic crash in town yesterday. Two cars collided. The driver of the second car admitted that after being hit, he thought he had his foot on the brake pedal, but he was actually pressing the accelerator. The result was he drove into the front of a business office. Fortunately no one in the office was hurt, but his car had to be extracted from a very damaged office area.
If you recall the crash in Santa Monica, CA about 8 years ago, a similar circumstance occurred. A senior gentleman was driving his car in the boardwalk area and again, thought he was applying his foot to the brake, and wound up mowing down a bunch of pedestrians because he was still on the accelerator - using full pressure.
For years, I have been aware of the difficulties confronting drivers when trying to move one's leg and foot from the accelerator to the brake in emergency situations. It is not such an issue with younger people. But as we age, this maneuver can become a big problem. Couple that with the variation in pedal distances from one another, height changes, and pedal sizes. I can remember seeing what seemed to me to be teeny sized foot pedals in older English cars, and wondering how one can safely drive the vehicle when one's foot could engage all three foot pedals at once?
Foot pedals are a carryover from a much earlier era when cars had to use rigid levers and linkages to operate the clutch, brake and accelerator pedals. Interestingly, the Model T ford had a hand throttle up on the steering wheel. But, traditions are apparently hard to release. One hundred years later, we still use an array of foot pedals to operate cars, when clearly, they could be replaced.
Feet and legs are good at making gross/large/heavy movements. The hands are designed for finer, more precise movements. With today's updated controls, it would seem to me that the public would be better served with hand controls. I had to bring a vehicle back for a lady who had parked it in town and got a lift with another person. She was paralyzed from the waist down, and so the vehicle had been equipped with hand controls to facilitate her needs. I drove the car back with the hand controls, and felt that I had better control over the vehicle than with the usual foot pedals. On my motorcycle, I am also using hand controls for several functions (accelerator, clutch, front brake) with no problems. Further, like race car drivers, I have trained myself to use left foot braking to be able to apply the brakes much faster than the traditional method. I don't drag my foot on the pedal, but keep it poised over the pedal when in town or where the need for greater vigilance is indicated.
In 1956 or so, I can recall Lincoln had produced a "dream car" that used "wrist twist" individual hand controls to replace the steering wheel. It was probably ahead of its time, but when you realize that large ships are now navigated with joysticks, it brings home the need for a serious redesign for cars. Our population is becoming more weighted with seniors and will continue to do so for many years. Taking this further, many people will have special needs and may not be able to operate cars as they are now configured. In the AARP DSP course, we have to confront keeping senior drivers roadworthy, and I am thinking that this would be an area of consideration that should be pursued. Perhaps a joint effort from AARP and the IIHS could be developed to approach the automobile manufacturers about providing - at least in the beginning - vehicles that would replace traditional foot controls with hand controls. Naturally, these would have to be uniform in their placement and use so folks could expect similar locations and functions as they use different vehicles. At least that would provide for those with the greatest need first. Later on, all vehicles could be so equipped.
Just some thoughts from me. Thanks for spending time with me. Any comments??