Lines of cars stuck in a traffic jam.

Sudden Unintended Acceleration: What To Do If It Happens to You

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

A car accident can happen at any time and for any reason. Common causes of car accidents include instances of driver error, including distracted driving, speeding, drowsy driving, and numerous traffic infractions. Our California personal injury attorneys routinely handle cases involving car accidents caused by driver error. 

Problems with the vehicle can also be a factor in the cause of a car accident. Sudden unintended acceleration has often been blamed on a defect in the vehicle. However, there is another possible explanation for sudden unintended acceleration. 

Can Drivers Mistake the Acceleration Pedal for the Brake Pedal?

Malcolm Gladwell examines another possible cause for sudden unintended acceleration in his podcast — drivers who mistake the acceleration pedal for the brake pedal. 

Gladwell spoke with experts and participated in tests recreating what happens when an accelerator sticks. What he discovered was fascinating and a little unsettling. First, people can mistake the accelerator pedal for the brake pedal. 

One source Gladwell interviewed explained how a person could believe he was pushing down on the brake when he was actually flooring the accelerator. It is easier to mistake the pedals in a vehicle than most people realize. 

Being in an unfamiliar vehicle, combined with the sense of panic a person feels when he believes that he cannot stop a vehicle from accelerating can create, can result in a moment of confusion in which the person believes he is pushing down on the brake. In reality, he is pushing down on the accelerator. This scenario may explain many of the claims in sudden unintended acceleration cases that the brakes did not work.

How to Stop a Car That is Accelerating?

Gladwell participated in testing with three “car guys” from Car and Driver. They purposefully held down the vehicle’s accelerator to mimic the conditions of sudden unintended acceleration. Each time, they applied the brakes while holding down the accelerator. In each instance, the car stopped. It might have taken longer for the car to stop, but the car stopped. As Gladwell pointed out, “the brakes won.”

Unfortunately, some trusted sources advise drivers to keep their foot on the brake and press down in the event of sudden unintended acceleration. However, if the driver has mistaken the accelerator for the brake, the vehicle will continue to gain speed until it crashes.

Instead, if you experience sudden unintended acceleration, try not to panic. Force yourself to remove your foot from the pedal. If you have mistaken the pedals, the car will stop accelerating. If the car continues to accelerate, depress the brake pedal and keep your foot on the brake pedal while applying steady pressure to stop the vehicle. The brakes will win if you use the brakes, at least according to the informal tests conducted by Gladwell. 

Contact a California Personal Injury Attorney

If a car accident caused your injuries, you might be entitled to compensation from the driver who caused the crash. You may receive compensation for your medical bills, physical pain, loss of income, emotional distress, and permanent impairment. 

Our California personal injury attorneys investigate the cause of car accidents. We gather evidence that proves what caused the crash and who is responsible for causing the crash. With that evidence, we file claims seeking maximum compensation for your injuries and damages. Contact us today for a free consult.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.