A Japanese inventor has come up with a unique solution to the problem of drivers mistakenly stepping on the accelerator instead of the brake: combine both functions into a single floor pedal.
Masuyuki Naruse, 74, has seen a lot in his many years of driving Japan's highways and biways, and the sights have not always been pretty. According to the Institute for Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis nearly 6,700 traffic accidents causing over 9,500 injuries and involving 37 deaths in 2009 alone are attributed to drivers' propensity to stomp on the wrong pedal when panicked.
The problem, says Naruse, is that the traditional side-by-side pedal arrangement used in cars and trucks worldwide is - no pun intended - an accident waiting to happen. "The automakers call it driver error," states Naruse, "But what if their design's all wrong?"
Naruse (above, right) owns a small factory in southwest Japan and he's been able to standardize what he calls "The Naruse Pedal" to the satisfaction of Japanese governmental watchdogs. About 130 cars in Japan have been retro-fitted with Mr. Naruse's pedal, and they cruise the nation's roadways with the blessing of the authorities.
In a nutshell, Naruse's pedal fits where a vehicle's accelerator is normally mounted but when pressed it activates the brakes. Along the pedal's right side is a raised bar that, when nudged sideways by the driver's foot, acts as the accelerator. Any sudden stomping by the driver activates the brake, and the brake only.
Naruse's idea isn't new but his design is one of the most practical applications so far. He's not alone in pushing for this new type of pedal either: Swedish regulators are currently testing a single-pedal prototype designed by Sven Gustafsson that works much the same way Naruse's pedal does - two different functions, two separate actions, one single pedal.
Whether this new type of pedal will ever become the norm in mass-produced automobiles is questionable at best, as several generations of drivers would need to discard the habitual behavior and muscle memory associated with two-pedal driving. The automakers are listening, however. While declining to comment on Mr. Naruse's pedal design specifically, Toyota spokesperson Ririko Takeuchi said "If you ask whether the current pedal design is the best we can do, the answer is no." That's something, coming from a company hit hard by a slew of unintended acceleration allegations.
So, will the phrase "step on the gas" become archaic someday? Could be... as the saying goes, "that's the brakes." (via PopSci and the New York Times, thanks to Lady Bee for the tip!)