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Q

DRIVING AUTOMATICS SAFELY: Why do you repeatedly advocate left foot braking of automatic cars? 

A

Because in the absence of a clutch to separate the driven wheels from the engine it's the only way to remain in full control of an automatic, especially when manouvering. An engine may surge at any time, either due to a fault, due the engine ECU protecting the catalytic converter from unburned fuel, or due to driver error or muscular spasm. In the time it can then take to get the right foot from the accelerator to the brake a child could be run over and killed (there were three such cases within days of each other in September 2003). In addition, elderly drivers are known to have become confused and instead of braking with the right foot have stabbed the accelerator.
 
Furthermore, many elderly people wear thick, heavy, welted shoes that can be more difficult to move quickly and can catch under the brake pedal.

That's why I recommend elderly drivers to to think very carefully before making a switch from a lifetime of manuals to an automatic. Often it's too late to safely make the change. The problem with automatic transmission is that, unless the driver drives 'two footed', he or she has far less control over the car than over a manual – which is why we read of many deaths and injuries caused by 'out of control' automatics. What usually happens is that during the engine's warm-up phase, or if the engine has been over-fuelling, the electronic control unit raises engine revs to above the point at which drive is taken up in the transmission, and the car starts to move. The driver may then panic, attempt to brake heavily, but hit the accelerator instead of the brake, and the car either crashes or runs someone over. (The phenomenon even has a name: 'Sudden Acceleration Syndrome'.) You cannot predict precisely when the car's ECU will increase revs independently, so my advice is to only buy an automatic if you can teach yourself to brake with your left foot at least while manoeuvring, which keeps the car fully under control. Skilled drivers left-foot-brake automatics – and even manuals – all the time, but not everyone can get their heads around the technique for everyday driving, especially if they switch between the two types of transmission.

Seven widely reported examples of death by right foot braking of automatics:

A retired driving instructor was manoeuvring his Mini automatic in a supermarket carpark using only his right foot as he had always taught his pupils. Either the engine surged or he had a spasm. He quickly stamped his right foot on the brake, hit the accelerator instead and the Mini went into a wall. He died of his injuries.

A man was parking his BMW automatic in a Hong Kong multi story car park. Either the engine suddenly surged or the driver had a spasm. He tried to brake. Hit the accelerator instead of the brake. Crashed through the safety barrier and plunged six floors to his death.

An elderly gentleman was reversing his automatic car one footed, aided by his wife of 50 years standing behind it. Suddenly the car surged and he has unable to get his foot off the accelerator onto the brake before he had run her over and killed her.

On 19th May 2010 a Range Rover was left in reverse with the engine running and the parking brake applied. The driver and passenger got out. The driver got back in, one of her feet touched the accelerator pedal, automatically releasing the parking brake. The car, being in reverse, immediately began to move backwards. In panic the driver pushed more on the accelerator (instead of the brake) and the car knocked over and killed the passenger.

In 2014, a retired nurse by the name of Anne Diggles drove a Nissan Qashqai CVT automatic from one side of the road to the other, mounted a kerb and ran over and killed a pedestrian emerging from a charity shop.

In 2015, an elderly gentleman driving a Mercedes-Benz SL automatic mounted a kerb in London and ran over and killed a young mother and her baby in a pram.

In 2016, a 90 year old gentleman after visiting his wife in hospital, mixed up his automatic's braking and accelerating and ran over and killed two women in the hospital carpark.

How to left foot brake while manoeuvring:

Right foot for the accelerator; left foot for the brake. Best employed while manoeuvring to retain total control over the car rather than losing it in the time it takes to move the right foot from accelerator to brake. It also ensures that your right foot does not get stuck under the brake pedal while attempting to move it from accelerator to brake.

With practise the skill to use left foot braking all the time can be developed, with no problem of confusion when you get back into a manual.

Can also be used on a manual but that really does take skill.

And, of course, it's the only way to drive a go-kart.



From The London Evening Standard 2-11-06:-

Fuelish driver - woman loses control of car at petrol station 02.11.06

Elderly Suzanne Cordeau was feeling a little fuelish after she lost control of her car at a petrol station and destroyed a diesel pump before rolling 360 degrees.

Mrs Cordeau, 82, was attempting to manoeuvre her Toyota Starlet closer to a pump when she accidentally hit the accelerator instead of the brake.

The car swerved across the forecourt, careered into a diesel pump - knocking it clean off its foundations - and flipped into the air before coming to rest on its side.

Twelve firefighters rushed to the scene and miraculously pulled her from the wreckage with only minor bruising to her leg.

A red-faced Mrs Cordeau, who was born in France but moved to Britain during World War Two, re-lived the horrifying ordeal.

"This is all very embarrassing," she said. "I'm very shaken and most upset. I have driven all my life and I've never had an accident before."

"It's all a bit of a blur. I put my foot down on what I thought was the brake, and suddenly the car raced forward."

"I thought I saw a girl in front me and when the car came to rest I was terrified I'd hit someone."

"I didn't have my seat belt on as I manoeuvred and I was thrown into the passenger seat of the car. I'm just glad nobody was hurt."

The accident happened as Mrs Cordeau was heading to the doctors and pulled up at the Texaco garage near Tewkesbury, Glos., at 10.30am on Sunday morning.

After popping in to pick up a sandwich and newspaper a cashier followed her out to help her fill up.

She manoeuvred her blue Toyota nearer a pump but the cashier - who was guiding her into position - did not realise the filler cap was on the opposite side of the vehicle.

As Mrs Cordeau gesticulated to the cashier to try and explain, she accidentally stamped her foot on the accelerator instead of the brake.

The automatic car shot forward, swerved across the forecourt and careered up a four inch concrete plinth on which the diesel pump was standing.

After knocking over the pump, the car tumbled onto its side, onto its roof and then back up onto the opposite side - almost completing a full 360-degree roll.

Lucky the station manager Lloyd Ward, 46, hit the emergency fuel cut-off switch before any fuel escaped and called emergency services.

He said: "I couldn't believe it. She'd shot forward, crashed up the plinth and smashed the pump over."

"I'm amazed nobody was hurt. Thankfully the pumps are designed not to spill in these situations but this one was completely shattered."

"The cashier had gone out to give her a hand filling up. She hadn't parked close enough to the pump and seemed to getting a bit frustrated with herself."

"Suddenly the car raced across the forecourt, hit the pump and she almost did a complete barrel roll."

"The fire crews were here in minutes and were able to pull her out. It took an hour to clean up before we could reopen but the repairs could take weeks."

"The fuel line to the tank is shattered and its going to cost thousands to repair. It's bad news for her insurance company."

"You wouldn't believe it unless you saw the CCTV video."

When fire crews arrived with cutting equipment Mrs Cordeau insisted they did not cut her car open to free her - and she was rescued through the sunroof instead.

Station manager Lloyd said: "The funniest thing was as the ambulance took her away for a check up all she was worried about was her paper and her sandwich."

Mrs Cordeau, whose ex-RAF husband died of cancer several years ago and now lives alone in Beckford near Tewkesbury, has children and grandchildren living in Cannes, Northampton, and Ireland.

A spokesman for Gloucestershire Fire Service said: "It could have been a very different story. We sent two pumps and a special chemical unit who were able to free her and make the area safe."

 

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