In the news recently was the tragic story of a 79 year-old woman who backed over and killed three pedestrians and injured seven more in a parking lot at a Bradenton 55 + mobile home community. Witnesses said the woman was backing up out of a parking space with her husband in the passenger seat after leaving a church service. It is not clear whether she believed her car to be in drive or reverse but sadly, she stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake. What followed was described as “horrific.”
Let’s be clear - many seniors are good drivers. Some are as safe at age 80 as they were when they were half this age. Some 65 year-olds shouldn’t be driving. But, driving is a complex task involving physical and mental systems working together in top condition in order to quickly evaluate and respond to conditions faced behind the wheel. There has been a lot of accident data gathered over the years on driving behaviors of both seniors and teens. Below are the results of a study on “gas pedal accidents,” a fairly common older driver error.
Findings of a government study by Highway Safety Research Center at the University of North Carolina for NHTSA (2012):
- Accidents in which drivers mistakenly hit the gas instead of the brake tend to involve older female drivers in parking lots.
- Nearly two-thirds of drivers who had such accidents were females.
- Gas pedal accidents tend to occur more frequently among drivers over age 76 and under age 20.
- The majority of gas pedal crashes occurred in parking lots, parking garages and driveways rather than on roadways.
- The frequency of this type of accident among these two age groups may be due to the area of the brain that deals with driving not being as “robust” in both teenage and elderly drivers.
One of the most highly published and devastating crashes happened in 2003. An 86 year-old male driver accidentlly stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake. He then panicked and plowed through an opened-air market in Santa Monica, CA. Ten pedestrians were killed and sixty-three were injured.
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