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News Navigator: Are many elderly drivers causing accidents by pushing the wrong pedal?

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about vehicle accidents in Japan caused by elderly drivers, amid a number of notable recent cases caused by mistaking the accelerator and brake pedals.

Question: Is it true there are a lot of car accidents recently that have been caused by mistaking the pedals?

Answer: It's been singled out as the possible cause for two recent high-profile collisions, one taking place in April in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, which took the lives of a mother and her young daughter, and another on June 4 in Sawara Ward in Fukuoka, the capital of southwesterly Fukuoka Prefecture, which involved a multiple vehicle crash. In both cases the drivers of the vehicles said to have caused the incidents were in their 80s.

Q: Why do they push the wrong pedal?

A: The accelerator and brake pedals are close to one another, and both require the driver to step on them as necessary, leading some to say that there's a possibility of mixing them up. In cases where drivers unexpectedly hit the curb and panic, relax their guard when close to their destination, or make sharp maneuvers out of a space requiring increased alternation between pedals, it seems easier to make an error. This kind of error rarely occurs with a manual transmission car, which comes with a clutch pedal that separates the engine from the transmission when stopping the car.

Q: But a lot of the people mixing up the gas and brake pedals are older, right?

A: According to the National Police Agency, among causes of fatal accidents involving motor vehicles in 2018, mistaking the brake and accelerator accounted for 5.4% among drivers aged 75 and older, which is higher than the figure for drivers under 75 at 1.1%. It appears the numbers are influenced by a drop in qualities such as our physical abilities as we age. However, accidents from mistaken pedal presses are also common among drivers in their 20s, who have less experience driving, so it's important to be cautious.

Q: Is there anything drivers can do about the situation?

A: The set-up and actions we take when driving are important. Tests by the Japan Automobile Federation, better known as JAF, show that if the driver's seat is not properly adjusted, or the user is wearing certain kinds of footwear such as sandals or high-heeled shoes, it's not possible to brake quickly and effectively. While anticipating potential dangers in normal situations, keep it in mind not to panic when driving. Even if you do make a mistake with the pedals, the chances of averting a possible large accident are high if you stay calm and take action to solve the problem.

(Japanese original by Yuki Yamamoto, City News Department)

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