Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Stop 'n' Go

The other day a guy drove his van from a parking lot straight into a "conveyor belt" sushi restaurant, injuring a dozen or so people. Most or all of them were sitting in the waiting area between the glass front of the shop and an interior partition. Judging from video of the aftermath, it's surprisingly lucky that nobody was killed: the van was completely inside the store, which was thoroughly wrecked. The driver claims to have mistaken the accelerator pedal for the brake pedal.

I've written about this phenomenon in my now-retired weekly column; you can try following this link to read it while the archive still exists. Accidents caused by drivers who confuse the gas and the brakes are proliferating, and although many of the drivers seem to be older folks, by no means all of them are. In fact, not all of the accidents are in or around parking lots, as one might expect, either. There have been a couple recently on expressways (the drivers reacted--too late, and very badly--to stopped traffic ahead by hitting the gas instead of the brake and slamming into the back of the last vehicle in line, causing multiple vehicle accidents) or on ordinary roads (one I remember was a driver who panicked in a curve, dramatically sped up instead of slowing down, and launched his vehicle through a guardrail into a house beyond it).

Most of the media comments I've heard about these accidents have been focusing on the age of the drivers, implying that their judgment is impaired and their reactions both slow and wrong, or else on the probable fatigue (if in heavy holiday traffic) and/or inexperience (if they're young) of the drivers. I've tended to suspect that drivers only familiar with automatic transmission vehicles are a major part of the problem.

But the guy who drove into the sushi shop was only 59, the accident happened during the daytime in a parking lot, and he's a professional truck driver.

I don't expect to see a follow-up story, so I'll never know further details, I guess, but it doesn't seem as if age, physical condition, or inexperience can be blamed in this case.

For many, many years I have habitually tried to avoid sitting in public places in seats where I can't see the entrance; I like to see people entering before they see me. I suppose I'll have to start avoiding the front areas of shops, bars, and the like, now, lest someone run me down indoors.

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