Avoiding crashes caused by hitting the gas instead of the brake

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- It was a beautiful Wednesday in Winston-Salem and business as usual at Mount Tabor Barber and Style. The seats were filling, employees and customers were engaged in their usual conversation, until it all came to a halt all because a man driving a Subaru failed to stop.

"I was cutting a customer's hair and had my back turned,” said barber Marty Smith, of the October 2017 mishap. "I heard an explosion, well, what I thought was an explosion. I actually dove for the floor."

The 91-year-old came crashing into the shop, slamming into a pole with his engine still revving and tires spinning.

"If the pole hadn't been there and hadn't stopped him I think he'd have gone all the way through the shop,” Smith said.

The cause of the crash was immediately obvious; the man had pressed the gas when he meant to hit the brake.

"Thank God nobody was sitting in the chairs right there by the window,” Smith added.

More recently, at La Casa Lopez Mexican Grill in Winston-Salem, a new driver committed the same blunder.

"Just sounded like an explosion,” owner Silvia Lopez said. "I [saw] the car [and] then I just started screaming."

A 16-year-old driver had pressed the gas and slammed into the front of the restaurant just before the dinner rush on May 15.

"He just kept on saying, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do this,’” Lopez said.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina say improper pedal application crashes happen seven to 15 times a month across the country. Their findings show in North Carolina, 37 percent of the drivers involved in the wrecks had fewer than four years of driving experience. They add that the male/female ratio of those involved in the crashes is 37 to 63 percent.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers some tips to avoid hitting the wrong pedal. First, get familiar with what you’re driving, including adjusting everything from your seat to the pedals. Additionally, make it a habit to aim for the middle of the brake pedal every time, which reinforces muscle memory. They say proper footwear can reduce the risk, adding that flip-flops, boots or high heels can contribute to the wrecks. Lastly, being cautious and avoiding distractions can help ensure someone can properly and timely hit the brake pedal.

For the barber shop, it took about five months to fully remodel.

"We just took what the insurance would pay and kind of went with it,” Smith said.

The restaurant is still waiting for their windows and door to be replaced.

"We lose a lot of business because now the people, they say, 'We don't know if you're open,' or, 'We don't feel secure,’” Lopez detailed.

Researchers say improper pedal application crashes make up less than 1 percent of all of the crashes in North Carolina.

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