An 84-year-old Sarasota woman recently crashed her Toyota Avalon into a Bank of America building when she hit the gas pedal rather than the brake as she was pulling into a parking space, according to a news report.

Fortunately, no one was injured in the accident when the woman’s car surged onto the sidewalk beside the bank entrance and hit the building.  Police cited with woman with careless driving. But crashes involving pedal error can cause serious and fatal injuries to other motorists and pedestrians.

Last year, a 79-year-old woman struck a group of pedestrians in a church parking lot in Bradenton, killing three people and injuring four more when her vehicle accelerated backward rather than going forward.  The Florida Highway Patrol cited her for improper backing. The driver previously had crashed into a McDonald’s restaurant when she made a pedal error, hitting the gas rather than the brake, according to the Bradenton Herald.

Pedal crash errors occur when a driver steps on the accelerator when intending to apply the brakes or steps on both the accelerator and the brake. If the vehicle design does not provide enough separation between the brake pedal and accelerator pedal, it may increase the probability of the driver pressing both pedals at the same time.

In some instances, a driver’s foot may slip off the brake onto the gas pedal, particularly if a driver is wearing flip flops or high heels. This can cause a vehicle to accelerate suddenly.

A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that accidents involving pedal error occur approximately 16,000 times a year in the United States.

Any driver can make a pedal error. But the study found that young drivers under the age of 20 and drivers over the age of 65 have accidents involving pedal errors four times more frequently than other age groups. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety, 15 percent of drivers in Hillsborough County are age 65 and older and 5 percent are under age 20.

Car accidents involving pedal errors frequently occur in parking lots, in driveways, at intersections and on exit ramps. The drivers may be startled by the unexpected sudden acceleration of their vehicle and have little time to react before colliding with another vehicle, an object or a person. More than 9,000 accidents involving pedal errors occur each year in parking lots and driveways, according to the NHTSA.

Tips to Avoid Pedal Error Accidents

Here are some ways to reduce the chances of a pedal error:

  • Aim for the Center— Make a habit of aiming your foot for the middle of the brake pedal every time you hit the brakes. Focus on the center of the brake pedal to reinforce muscle memory.
  • Wear Proper Shoes for Driving—Boots, high heels and flips flops can contribute to pedal errors that cause unintended acceleration. Wear appropriate, light weight footwear when behind the wheel.
  • Proceed Slowly —Be careful when backing out of parking spaces and pulling into them. Parking lots and driveways are where motorists are most likely to encounter pedestrians.
  • Be Familiar—Whatever car you are driving, take time to adjust a car’s steering wheel and mirrors and make sure you are familiar with the location of the safety equipment such as the brakes, horn, windshield wipers and hazard lights.
  • Adjust the Seat—A driver’s height may contribute to pedal error. It’s important to adjust the driver’s seat so that your foot can easily and comfortably reach the accelerator and brake pedals.

If you have been injured in an accident caused by a driver who confused the brake and the gas pedal in the Tampa Bay area, contact a knowledgeable Tampa car accident lawyer to review your legal options.