What to do if your accelerator sticks

Your neighbourhood fruit stands will thank you

Imagine driving down the road and your accelerator gets stuck. When we’ve seen that happen in the movies it is always dramatic. The car hitting full speed and becoming completely unresponsive to braking, violently weaving in and out of traffic and through fruit stands.

In the real world it doesn’t happen like that and in fact it’s not very likely to ever happen at all. However, if it ever did it would be frightening and possibly dangerous.

Mechanical malfunctions in modern vehicles are rare. Since the mid 2000s there is no continual mechanical link from the gas pedal to the throttle. Its mostly electronic with many safety overrides.

If your accelerator were to stick it would most likely be caused by a floor mat or other object getting jammed under the gas pedal. This could obviously be avoided by keeping your vehicle clear of clutter and making sure floor mats are properly fixed in place.

In the unlikely event that your accelerator does get stuck, there are things to do and, equally important, things not to do. Here are some tips to safely handle the situation.

The first thing to immediately focus on is remaining calm, keeping your hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road. Take a deep breath though your nose and out through your mouth. This helps you to feel in control. It’s so important not to panic.

While it’s always important to be completely aware of your surroundings while driving, it’s vital if you were to ever find yourself in this situation. This means you never drive distracted and are always focused on the road. You will only have a few seconds to respond so knowing where other vehicles and pedestrians are will help avoid a possible crash.

Keeping your eyes on the road you can try lifting the gas pedal with the toe of your right foot keeping your left foot free for the brake pedal. If this works, pull over immediately where it’s safe to do so and try to determine what caused the issue. Don’t proceed until you are sure it’s safe to do so.

If that doesn’t work, try pressing firmly and continually on the brake pedal with your right foot. Simply pressing on the brake once won’t work. Be aware that your vehicle may respond differently than normal and may pull to the right or left. Keep a firm grip on the steering wheel. On modern vehicles this should override the throttle.

If for some reason this also doesn’t work, shift your transmission into neutral. If you have an automatic transmission, neutral is almost always the gear directly above drive. Push the shift lever forward to take the vehicle out of drive and into neutral. On most vehicles, you shouldn’t have to push the button on the shift lever to do this.

Most newer vehicles will only allow you to shift the vehicle from drive to neutral while moving. You probably won’t be able to but be very careful you don’t shift the transmission into park or reverse. This could cause significant damage to your transmission and may cause you to lose control.

If you have a standard transmission, shifting into neutral involves pulling the vehicle’s shift lever out of gear while pressing down on the clutch. Again, it’s important to keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

You should avoid using the emergency brake or turning the engine off unless nothing else has worked and only as a last resort.

Turning your engine off may stop the vehicle from accelerating but you will also lose your power steering and other safety systems in your vehicle. You will no longer be able to predictably steer or brake your vehicle. If you do turn off the engine, be prepared for your steering to become extremely difficult.

Your emergency brake is not designed to stop your vehicle in motion, but to keep your vehicle from moving once it’s already stopped. So, the brake may fail if you attempt to use it while moving. It could also cause you to lose control. This should only be tried as an absolute last resort.

The chances of your accelerator getting stuck are very slim, but it’s a good idea to give these tips some thought ahead of time, just in case. And again, if you avoid driving while distracted you will be better prepared to handle unforeseen challenges like this. The extra seconds you will have by not needing to focus on the road will be invaluable.

Catch Driving With Jens on CHON FM Thursdays at 8:15. If you have any questions or comments you can reach out to Jens Nielsen at drivingwithjens@gmail.com, Facebook or Twitter: @drivingwithjens.

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