Variability in circumstances underlying pedal errors: an investigation using the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey

Paper #:
  • 2018-01-0493

  • 2018-04-03
Pedal errors have been widely reported as a leading cause of unintended acceleration (UA) incidents for several decades. Many governmental and scientific studies have attempted to characterize the rate of pedal errors leading to UA incidents using data from the North Carolina Crash Database. These data, however, are limited for various reasons, including the absence of an in-depth investigation of causal factors contributing to the accident. To further examine the rate of UA incidents related to pedal error, we utilized the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey (NMVCCS), a nationally representative sample of 6,949 crashes that occurred between 2005 and 2007. This sample contains detailed information including the causal chain of events leading to the crash, environmental factors, and vehicle event data recorder (EDR) data. Using a targeted keyword search, we identified 59 potential pedal errors (36 driver-admitted). We then investigated accident characteristics across these specific cases, including demographic features of the drivers, vehicle characteristics, roadway features and pre-crash critical events. We found substantial variability across all of these conditions, indicating that pedal errors occur widely, irrespective of the aforementioned variables. We further found no differences in the characteristics of driver-admitted pedal errors, and other potential pedal errors. Second, we investigated EDR data for those vehicles involved in a potential pedal error that was not admitted to by the driver. Of the 23 unadmitted pedal error cases, EDR data were available from four vehicles. In these instances, EDR data confirmed that each of these drivers had their foot on the accelerator while they thought they were on the brake. The findings provide additional evidence that unintended acceleration and pedal error incidents do not result from a vehicle-based cause, but rather, result from driver error that can occur regardless of the vehicle driven, and without driver awareness.
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