To Go Forward, Press Sideways

Naruse Pedal Courtesy of the News and ObserverDriving a car is a complex activity.  One has to constantly monitor the surroundings in at least 180 degrees while simultaneously operating the machinery itself.  In situations of suddent danger we often panic, our reaction instinctual.  So, what happens when driving and something unexpected happens, requiring instantaneous response? Too often, argues Japanese inventor Masuyuki Naruse, drivers stomp their foot -- an instinctual reaction to danger -- accelerating the car forward rather than hitting the brakes.  And, how could we blame them?  The accelerator and brake pedals are directly next to one another. This design is fundamentally flawed, and that's why Naruse, along with a handful of others, have invented a different pedal.  Naruse's prototype, which brakes when pressed down and accelerates when pressed sideways, has been installed in about 130 cars in Japan; regulators in Sweden are testing a model designed by Sven Gustaffson.

The premise is that braking must be the default option, and since people instinctually stomp down when panicked, Naruse's pedal will only brake in response to that action.  UCLA psychologist Richard A. Schmidt  found in a 1989 study that disruptions to neuromuscular processes can cause the foot to deviate from the intended reaction; engineer and psychologist Katsuya Matsunaga of Kyushu Sangyo University in Japan performed an experiment where drivers were asked to switch from accelerating to braking on cue, and when that cue was accompanied by a startling noise, subjects often hesitated or found difficulty performing the switch.

Again, in my opinion, cars should be used minimally in areas of high density, where sudden, unexpected events are most likely to occur in the road.  However, for those who need to and for their fellow street users, this pedal or some version of it should provide peace of mind and expanded safety.

-Terra Curtis