Pedal Error? Lessons Learned From A Livermore Gym Crash

-Posted On October 12, 2015 In Automobile Accident-

Pedal error, or, confusing the brake from the gas, or the clutch, is more common than you may think. And for our elderly citizens, the risk is even greater. In fact, earlier this month a woman in Livermore lost her life due to pedal error when an 80 year old driver slammed into a gym one Tuesday afternoon.


Studies show that pedal error accounts for thousands of accidents across the country each year, with many of those accidents leading to injury, or even death. Luckily, help may be on the way.


This past month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced an agreement between 10 large vehicle manufactures to begin making automatic emergency braking a standard feature on future cars. The technology uses radar, cameras, or lasers to alert drivers of an imminent crash and then automatically apply the brakes. This feature could prevent fender benders, head on collisions, store front damage, and even save lives.


Two thirds of all pedal error involve young or elderly woman, with the highest percentage being 75 or older, and specifically during parking maneuvers at slow speeds. With crashes occurring approximately 16,000 times a year (or, 44 incidents a day), it’s a problem that deserves solving.


In the instant case, Kathy Baker, a Livermore lab executive, was killed and six others injured, reaffirming concerns about elderly drivers and if they should face stricter driving requirements. No less than six hours later a similar incident occurred, involving a woman driving into a Ukiah post office building when she mistook the gas pedal for the brake.


“These accidents are foreseeable, predictable, and preventable…it’s not a problem that’s going away any time soon” said Rob Reiter, co-founder of the Storefront Safety Council.


An auto forensics consultant, Jerry Wachtel, commented that “[older drivers] are not aware, in the moment. They don’t have what we call situational awareness, and they may think they’re hitting the brake pedal” but are actually tapping the accelerator.


In California, there is actually only one law specific to older drivers, and that has to do with renewal of license after 70. Once a motorist turns 70, the license can no longer be renewed by mail every five years like other drivers, but instead, must be renewed in person. The driver then receives a written and vision test, but not a driving test. DMV workers can order one if deemed necessary. Drivers can also be referred by doctors, police, family members, or others for license re-examination, but there is no specific age for such re-examination.


Over 2.2 million drivers in California are 70 or older. With more than 85,000 drivers 90 or older.


So, what do you, the reader, think? I know that I have encountered plenty of elderly drivers that should probably not be behind the wheel, but the same can be said for drivers of all ages. I think that the best course of action is continued steps towards prevention, with the automatic braking systems in newer cars, and potentially a re-test for those either over a certain age, or that hold a certain driving record. I want us all to be safe on the road, and if it means getting re-tested, then I’m all for it.
unnamedHello, I’m Claude Wyle, a San Francisco automobile injury attorney. Have an idea for a topic you’d like to see covered here? Feel free to contact me or visit

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