FARGO-It frequently happens here and across the country: A vehicle crashes into a building, another car, or even a bicyclist or pedestrian when the driver is startled or panicked and fumbles with the foot pedals.
On Aug. 9, a vehicle vaulted on top of two others in the parking lot of Doolittle's Woodfire Grill here after the 27-year-old female driver hit the gas pedal instead of the brake. A police report stated that all three vehicles had to be towed away because of the damage.
On April 12, a sedan crashed through the front window of The Salon Professional Academy here, coming to rest on top of several salon chairs. The 77-year-old woman driver said her flip-flop got tangled with the accelerator.
No one was hurt in either case, but the potential for injury-- even death-- is there.
These kinds of crashes can easily be minimized, said Trevor Frith, a 1961 University of North Dakota graduate and retired mechanical engineer. He said it's time to ban instruction of right-foot braking and teach drivers to stop with their left foot instead.
"They're teaching the wrong method," Frith said.
Frith, born in Saskatchewan, now splits his time between Huntsville, Ontario, and Clermont, Fla. At some point in his RV travels through Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, he decided left-foot braking seemed like a more efficient method.
"I thought I had a better mousetrap," the 79-year-old said. "It was an engineering thing."
Since then, he's done his own research and operates a website, www.leftfootbraking.org. He's called on highway safety officials in Canada and the U.S. to study and compare the two kinds of braking methods, but has been unable to draw their attention.
Frith said right-foot braking is a holdover from when all cars had manual transmissions. Now, when a majority drive vehicles with automatic transmissions, he thinks people simply don't want to change because that's how it's always been done.
In fact, when asked why driving instructors teach right-foot braking, an official with the North Dakota Department of Transportation said, "That's how it's been taught."
Public information officer Jamie Olson went on to say, however, that there are additional risks when people drive with both feet at the same time.
If a driver is stopped with one foot on the brake and the other on the gas and the vehicle is rear-ended, the car could accelerate into the intersection, Olson said. She also said people who drive with both feet tend to "ride" the brake more, which can cause a miscommunication to the driver behind.
"There's no evidence or statistics that say left-footed braking is safer," Olson said.
That is what frustrates Frith. He said no one has ever done a scientific study comparing left- and right-foot braking. He advocates putting 100 student drivers through simulator tests, with some braking left-footed, others right. But traffic safety departments haven't been receptive to that idea, he said.
According to his calculations, it takes an average of one second to move your foot from the accelerator to the brake, but only about a quarter of a second to brake with your left foot.
"You lose three-quarters of a second," Frith said. "By then, the vehicle has gone another 30 to 40 feet."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has no numbers on left vs. right braking, but has compiled some statistics on what it calls "pedal application errors."
Some of its conclusions:
• Drivers in almost two-thirds of such crashes were females.
• These crashes happen most often among the youngest drivers, ages 16 to 20, and oldest drivers, 76 and up.
• Nearly half the time, drivers were pulling into a parking space when the crash happened.
• Driver inattention and distraction were common contributing factors across age groups.
Sgt. Jim Kringlie of the Fargo Police Department said he doesn't see any benefit to using two feet when driving, but there's no law that says you can't. You just have to operate a vehicle in a safe manner, he said.
Kringlie said he, like others, still drive manual transmission vehicles, and relearning how to brake would be hard.
"If it works for him (Frith), more power to him," Kringlie said.