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A potentially very important question is raised by one of our readers. Here is his letter.

As you know, there are constantly situations where “older folks” “lose
control” of their vehicles. Most famously was the fellow at the Santa Monica farmers’ market. These incidents commonly occur. One of the things I hear in the aftermath of such incidents are expressions like, “I was pushing on the brake but the car kept moving forward." The presumption is that the “older driver” was mixed up and pressed the wrong pedal.

Well, I had an incident happen to me about a year ago, but after about a
second, I figured out what was happening and “fixed” the problem. It happened again recently.  Here is what happened:

I had just started my car, parked at the curb, with my foot on the brake. I moved my foot over to the gas and started to move forward when I noticed someone coming down the cross street (I was parked at a “T” intersection.) Not knowing if the other driver was turning right or left, or whether he/she would stop for the “STOP” sign—most don’t—I slipped my foot back to the brake and depressed it. Only my car kept pulling forward! I realized that the right side of my foot was pushing the gas while the left side was pushing the brake!

I made an immediate correction, but also analyzed what happened. When I moved my foot from the gas to the brake I basically lifted the toe/sole of my foot and, pivoting on the heel, moved my toe to the brake. I was NOT pushing the brake with the sole of my foot parallel to the brake pedal, but rather at about a 30-40 degree angle. The right edge of my shoe was pushing the gas!!!

Now here is what I have figured out. About a year ago, my physician, after telling me for several years that I was pre-diabetic, told me I had “crossed the line.” When I mentioned this to my podiatrist, he immediately suggested that I get a pair of shoes for diabetics. I suppose you know that Medicare allows diabetics to have a pair of shoes (and set of 3 inserts) once a year. Now these shoes are big and ugly –my wife has been wearing them for several years now; from a point of vanity, she hates them. The key word is “big". Most shoes are designed to be chic and narrow. For instance, I’ve checked and my dress shoes are 3¾ to 4 inches wide (across the widest point) –that’s a size “D.” My “diabetes” shoes are 4½ wide. That’s between 12½ to 20% larger. Doesn’t seem like much, but twice now I’ve had it affect me. In addition to that, on more than one occasion, While lifting my foot off of the gas, I’ve had the left side of my shoe catch on the bottom of the brake pedal. Only a fraction of a second delay getting to that pedal, but in a tight situation that could be the difference of an accident or not. For the last ten years, knowing my reaction time is slower, I leave a bit more space between me and the car in front. So, I’ve never had a problem.

My concern is “older” drivers who might react slower than me and may panic when things go wrong. My first thought of course is: How many people involved in this sort of accident (where the car keeps going forward) are wearing wide “diabetic” shoes? Has anyone ever checked for that?