Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Automotive Engineering

Committee Member

Paul J. Th. Venhovens, PhD, Committee Co-Chair

Committee Member

Johnell O. Brooks, PhD, Committee Co-Chair

Committee Member

David Bodde, PhD

Committee Member

John D. DesJardins, PhD

Committee Member

Patrick J. Rosopa, PhD


The purpose of this study was to understand the pedal usage characteristics of older drivers in various driving tasks using an instrumented vehicle. This study stemmed from the prevalence of the pedal application errors (PAEs) and the older drivers’overrepresentation in crashes caused by PAEs.

With the population increasing and becoming older, it is estimated that in 2020 there will be 40 million drivers over the age of 65 in the United States. Compared with their younger counterparts, older drivers are facing declining cognitive and physical abilities, such as impaired vision, slower reaction time and diminishing range of limb motion. Because these abilities are closely associated both with the driving task and the ability to recover from a crash, older drivers are overrepresented in vehicle crash involvement rate, and they are especially vulnerable to injuries caused by the crashes.

Pedal misapplication crash is a type of crash preceded by a driver mistakenly pressing the accelerator pedal. Recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a report on PAE. The report reveals that older drivers are overrepresented in pedal misapplication crashes and that several driving tasks are overrepresented, such as emergency stopping, parking lot maneuvers and reaching out of the vehicle to interact with a curb-side device such as a card reader, mailbox, or ATM. Existing research has investigated the PAEs from different perspectives, but questions remain as to why older drivers are more likely to commit PAEs in these driving tasks. The current study investigated the pedal usage characteristics of 26 older drivers in driving tasks, such as startle-braking, forward parking and reaching out from the vehicle, which are scenarios associated with higher risk of PAEs. Ten stopping tasks were also investigated as baseline tasks. The study was conducted on-road using an instrumented vehicle. The data collected by the instrumented vehicle included pedal travel (potentiometer), force applied on the pedals (Tekscan sensor), and video recordings of each driver’s upper body and his or her foot movement.

The study findings include the following: a) There are significantly positive correlations between a driver’s stature and the percent of foot pivoting, as well as between the shoe length and the percent of foot pivoting, which means the taller the driver or the longer the driver’s shoe, the more likely the driver will use foot pivoting instead of foot lifting in the baseline stopping tasks; b) In the startle-braking task, the driver is more likely to use foot lifting than that in the baseline tasks; c) The foot movement strategy is not found to affect lateral foot placement in either the baseline stopping tasks or the startle-braking task; d) When reaching out of the driver’s window to swipe a card at a card reader, the lateral foot placement on the brake pedal will bias rightward, compared with the lateral foot placement prior to reaching out; e) Approaching a gated access or parking in a dark, relatively confined parking space does not significantly slow down a driver’ foot transfer from the accelerator pedal to the brake pedal; f) Stature of a driver does not significantly affect the time required to successfully complete a card-swiping task. A driver’s pedal operation characteristics are associated with many factors, among which four factors are identified to be relevant to the driver’s pedal operation: stature, shoe length, startle stimuli and reaching out of the driver’s window. To identify the direct causes of PAEs, future research should investigate the pedal operation characteristics in a more controlled environment. For example, an eye-tracking device can be used to study the relationship between gaze direction and foot movement. Other driving scenarios, such as reversing, should be studied as well. In addition, a study with a larger sample size and novice drivers is necessary to validate the findings of the current study and to understand the PAEs among the population with little driving experience.

The current study has both clinical and engineering implications. For occupational therapists and driving rehabilitation specialists, factors such as stature, leg length, footwear, vehicle type and pedal configuration may provide information about driver’s foot behaviors. For example, drivers with flat-soled shoes may tend to use foot lifting and drivers with wedged shoes may tend to use foot pivoting. Drivers with very wide shoes may get the shoe caught under the brake pedal when pivoting from the accelerator pedal to the brake pedal. Drivers with short leg length may be able to use foot pivoting when driving a sports vehicle, but they would have to use foot lifting when driving a large truck. Drivers tend to use foot lifting when the pedals are higher above from the vehicle floor and drivers tend to use foot pivoting when the pedals are lower above the vehicle floor. An in-clinic test of a driver’s lower extremity functions prior to on-road assessment helps to select the appropriate test vehicles. For example, it is recommended that shorter drivers with weaker lower extremity functions use vehicles of which the pedals are lower above the vehicle floor. To reduce the chance of a driver’s foot slipping off the brake pedal, engineers should consider redesigning the pedal pad to increase the friction coefficient of shoe-pedal contact. For example, using tread width of 2mm produces higher friction values. In addition, Automatic Vehicle Identification can be implemented so that the drivers do not have to reach out of the window to swipe card and to enter a gated access. Other driver assistance systems such as Autonomous Emergency Braking and Automated Parking System can either mitigate the damage or eliminate the chance of a human error.



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