These days the media has focused on traffic accidents attributed to elderly drivers who mistakenly stepped on accelerators instead of brakes. One afternoon variety show devoted part of its program to new devices being developed to prevent these sorts of accidents. The devices being developed are attachments or replacements for the accelerator and brake pedals. If the driver suddenly steps down hard on the accelerator, when the vehicle is going less than 10 kph, then the vehicle suddenly stops as though the brake had been forcibly activated. According to that segment of the program, a number of these devices is being developed for market. From this I am reminded of the old adage that “necessity is the mother of invention.”
I got a driver’s permit 58 years ago and a driver’s license one year later. Even back then automatic transmissions were standard in most cars, however, cars with standard, or manual, transmissions were still common. I learned to drive using a manual transmission and enjoyed it more than automatic transmissions because of the ability to shift gears; something that gave the sensation of really driving.
As you may know, cars with manual transmissions have three pedals: accelerator, brake, and clutch. The accelerator is on the right, the brake in the middle, and the clutch on the left. The right foot was used for the accelerator and brake while the left foot was used for operating the clutch. To shift gears, one ifted the right foot off of the accelerator, stepped on the clutch pedal to disengage it, pulled the gear shift to a different gear, and then while lifting the left foot off of the clutch pedal again stepped down on the accelerator with the right foot at the same time. Some degree of skill was required in learning how to smoothly do that. The hardest thing to master was smoothly moving the car forward when stopped on a hill. This required stepping on the brake and holding it down with the right foot while also stepping on the clutch so as to put the car into first gear, then – and this was the hard part – slowly disengaging the clutch by slowly pulling back the left foot and at the same time lifting the right foot off the brake pedal and putting it on the accelerator with just the right amount of force to cause the car to begin moving forward and then fully release the left foot off of the clutch pedal.
That was how I learned to drive a manual transmission car, however, when driving a car with an automatic transmission, the right foot was only used for the accelerator and the left foot only for the brake. Using that method there was never the chance of mistaking the accelerator for the brake because different feet were used. For acceleration the right foot was used and to brake the left foot was used. Over years one became accustomed to that without thinking about it. I think the reason why some people mistake the accelerator for the brake is because they have been conditioned over many years to only use their right foot for both the accelerator and the brake. Maybe if drivers had been conditioned to use both feet instead of just the right foot to operator cars, accidents caused by mistaking the accelerator for the brake may have been averted.