Earlier this week, a customer managed to crash her Tesla Model S into a sign at the Tesla Motors headquarters in Fremont, California. Stories immediately appeared on the internet about how some people are so stupid they can’t even remember that the accelerator is on the right and the brake is on the left, and that this accident happened immediately upon purchase. Sadly, Jalopnik fell into this false trap, much to their discredit.
Upon further review, as they say in the NFL these days, it turns out the driver was simply confused and pressed the wrong pedal. Embarrassing? Absolutely. The result of limited intelligence? I think not. I have never been in a Tesla, but I suspect it is sufficiently novel in many respects so that a person could get tripped up by the unfamiliar surroundings.
I know I always thought people who got the wrong pedal were ignorant until it happened to me. The experience left me shaken and scared – and a lot more sympathetic to those with a similar experience. After decades of driving, our brains assume certain things about the controls found in all cars. When those assumptions prove false, it takes a few beats for the brain to recognize there is a problem and figure out how to deal with it.
12 hours after the original story on Jalopnik, an updated version appeared. In it, a witness told this story:
The story I overheard from the woman who crashed was that she had turned in preparation to back into a supercharger, meant to throw it in reverse, but didn’t, and then got “scared” when she hit the accelerator and started moving forward so she accidentally gunned it instead of jumping on the brake.
It was a stupid mistake, but it wasn’t some alcohol induced delivery drama. It was someone who was legitimately scared who hit the wrong pedal.
The author, Michael Ballabon, was kind enough to admit that perhaps he jumped the gun a bit on the original story and that hitting the wrong pedal is a fairly common occurrence with serious consequences. Just ask Toyota.
For me, the take away from this story is not that someone stepped on the gas when she meant to step on the brake. Rather, it is that the internet, with its emphasis on getting a story first rather than getting it right, gives us garbage as much as it gives us real news. And that puts the burden on readers to sort through the outpouring of information they get 24 hours a day from the internet and decide for themselves what is worth keeping and what should be ignored.