Drivers use the brake almost a million times per year, usually with no problem. But each year, approximately 16,000 preventable crashes occur due to pedal error when drivers mistake the accelerator for the brake. Pedal error crashes can present serious safety risks to the vehicle occupants, surrounding motorists, pedestrians, and property.

The National Transportation Highway Safety Administration says pedal error crashes can be reduced by taking the following steps:

  1. Get Familiar – Adjust your seat, mirrors, steering wheel and pedals (if they are adjustable) properly before starting the vehicle. If you are driving a vehicle you don’t normally drive, make sure to familiarize yourself with the location and feel of the accelerator and brake pedals.
  2. Aim for the Middle – Make it a habit to aim for the center of the brake pedal every time the brake is used. This reinforces muscle memory and reduces the chances of pedal error.
  3. Avoid Distractions –Stay focused on the driving task until the vehicle is safely stopped, shifted into park, and the engine is turned off.
  4. Be Cautious – Proceed slowly and carefully when pulling in and backing out of parking spaces.
  5. Wear the Right Shoes – Your footwear affects your ability to operate a vehicle. Footwear such as flip-flops, heavy boots, or high heels can contribute to pedal error crashes. Wear flat soled and light-weight shoes whenever you’re in the driver’s seat.

Frequently asked questions

What is pedal error and how does it occur?

Pedal error crashes can occur when the driver steps on the accelerator when intending to apply the brake; the driver’s foot slips off the edge of the brake onto the accelerator; or when the driver intends to apply only the brake, but steps on both the brake and the accelerator. This can cause sudden vehicle acceleration, often at full-throttle, with no brake force slowing the vehicle down. These incidents are initiated most frequently in vehicles that are traveling at very low speeds, such as when attempting to park the vehicle in parking lots and driveways. They can also occur in other situations in which braking is commonly required, including intersections and highway exit ramps. Many drivers recognize that a pedal error occurred after the incident, but are unable to correct the error in time to prevent a crash. This happens because once the initial pedal error occurs, the situation develops rapidly, often in the confined space of a parking lot, with drivers only having a few seconds to correct the issue while they are often startled and stressed by the unexpected acceleration of the vehicle.

How common are pedal error crashes and who do they generally happen to?

A NHTSA study shows that these crashes can occur up to 16,000 times per year in the United States – that’s almost 44 incidents per day. While these crashes can affect all drivers, the study shows that drivers under the age of 20 or over the age of 65 experience pedal error crashes about four times more frequently than other age groups.

How is pedal error related to “sudden acceleration”?

Sudden acceleration refers to unintended, unexpected, high-power acceleration, accompanied by an apparent loss of braking effectiveness that typically occurs from a very low initial speed when the driver is attempting to stop the vehicle. Investigations into reports of these incidents by NHTSA, NTSB and others during the past 40 years have not identified any vehicle defects that can cause sudden failures of both the throttle and braking systems and have attributed these complaints to pedal error by the driver. Field investigations over the past five years by NHTSA and others using pre-crash pedal application data from vehicle event data recorders have determined that drivers who believed they were applying the brake in such incidents were often mistakenly applying the accelerator instead. Based on these investigations, NHTSA has not identified any defects with the vehicles that can explain simultaneous failures of the throttle and brake systems.

I’m still not sure how this affects me. Who can I call?

For more information, or to report a possible safety defect, you can call NHTSA’s Safety Hotline at (800) 424-9153.

View NHTSA’s consumer safety video on preventing pedal errors

View NHTSA’s pedal report