This region seems to get more than its share of cars crashing into buildings.
A couple of weeks ago a car crashed into the Social Security office in Egg Harbor Township, injuring 20 people, some critically. Earlier this month a car slammed into a movie theater at the Cumberland Mall in Vineland, fortunately resulting in few or light injuries.
Last year, a Corvette driven by a 20-year-old woman jumped the curb, crossed the lawn and burst through a window into The Press’ newsroom.
Many such crashes, and probably the first two mentioned that occurred in parking lots, are the result of what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls pedal misapplication. Typically, it’s simply the driver intending to hit the brakes and pressing the accelerator instead.
The Claims Journal of the insurance industry reported in 2015 that nearly 60,000 preventable U.S. crashes occur each year due to pedal error.
The Storefront Safety Council, which collects data on vehicle crashes into commercial buildings, estimates there are about 50 such crashes a day in the U.S. Most occur at retail stores (25 percent), with 21 percent at convenience stores, 19 percent at restaurants and 22 percent at other locations.
NHTSA studied pedal misapplication crashes in 2012. Its “most consistent finding across data sources was the striking overrepresentation of females in pedal misapplication crashes, relative to their involvement in all types of crashes.”
Females were the drivers in nearly two-thirds of the pedal misapplication crashes identified in two crash databases and in a review of media reports.
The agency said possible explanations include women more likely to be driving in parking lots, cars that poorly fit females, or disproportionately high rates of conditions such as neuropathy that contribute to pedal errors.
Such impairment of “executive function” — the ability to turn cognitive interaction with the world into a plan and execute it — is one predictor of pedal error events, the NHTSA report said. The other is driver age, either young (20 and under) or old (65 and older). Those age cohorts experience such crashes about four times more frequently that other age groups.
The Storefront Safety Council found that states with the highest number of licensed drivers over 65 also ranked highest in storefront crashes.
Which brings us to South Jersey, which has an outsized share of senior citizens. The Census Bureau says 15.8 percent of New Jersey residents are 65 or older. Among residents in local counties, in Cape May seniors are 25.6 percent, in Ocean 22.4 percent and in Atlantic County 17.3 percent.
NHTSA recommends that doctors be alert to physical conditions that could make pedal error more likely and refer such patients to driver rehabilitation specialists. The public should know to shift into neutral if a vehicle accelerates unexpectedly.
Drivers — whatever age or gender — should make sure their seat is well-positioned and they’re belted before starting. There is no standard for pedal placement by vehicle manufacturers, so the best position for secure, intuitive pressing of the pedals is up to each driver in each car.
As in so many things, rushing can only make errors more likely, which in this case may yield tragic results.