By on March 26, 2010

Paul Niedermeyer is not alone. Well, it’s a little different this time. Here’s exhibit one: the pedal assembly from my 1988 Mercury Cougar XR-7. Far from your average Reagan-era Yank Tank (and kudos if you spot all three modifications) the Cougar sat around for a year while I was hunting for parts, waiting for arrival and installing them.

So, after a brief re-acquaintance with the Foxiest of Fox Body Cougars, I went for a normal commute on a totally normal day. But I hadn’t driven the Cougar in a while. And time was not on my side on this day.

Even worse, I was mulling over personal problems yet to be resolved. At the wrong moment: I put the Cat in reverse, let out the clutch and motored out the driveway. Paying attention to my neighbor’s E36 M3 parked behind me, I hit the brakes in preparation for a quick move back to first gear. The only problem? I hit the accelerator instead. HARD.

The old 5.0L mill revved to 4500 rpm before I realized what the hell happened. It left me completely dumbfounded. If it wasn’t for my left foot firmly on the clutch, it would have been a bad day for two cool cars on a quiet suburban street. Take a look at the picture again: the brake doesn’t look close to the throttle, but my foot can easily press both at the same time. So what makes the Cougar a decent heel-and-toe machine also makes it easy to confuse the brake for the gas. Now I know how drivers of the Audi 5000 felt back in the day.

Well, not the ones who sued Audi for their troubles: this is a 22 year old car, after all. And I thought a total car dork like myself would know better. Too bad operator error happens to anyone, floor mats or electronic throttle cables be damned. Like they say in Driver’s Ed, prepare for anything behind the wheel. Spot potential threats early. Most importantly, understand the risk lurking behind your actions and take responsibility for them. Because, like it or not, everyone is responsible for their actions.

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20 Comments on “News Flash: Unintended Acceleration Can Happen To Anyone!...”

  • avatar


    Why not do a CC on your car? It sounds pretty cool and there’s lots of neat history there as well. Just a thought…

  • avatar

    Your experience is exactly what I was saying (or writing) to the people who posted the “Oh, I can control my car in any situation” kinds of posts. When either you do something or your car does something unexpected, most people panic. Even folks who are very familiar with their cars,

    I could see how unfamiliarity in an emergency situation could lead to disastrous results. Thankfully you were able to avoid an accident.

    • 0 avatar

      There is also a difference between the described backing maneuver where you have seconds to do something, and those who drove their car for minutes? – long enough to make phone calls – and weren’t able to “react”.

    • 0 avatar

      @tced: I wasn’t speaking about the CHP officer who died. Nor am I referencing the other folks who have what seem to be spurious claims to unintended acceleration.

      If you’re one of the folks who thinks they have complete control at all times, then good on you.

      My point remains.

      People can be taken by surprise and panic. It even happened to the author of the post.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve been blabbering on about the same thing. In the time it takes you to call 911 and process someone else’s advice, if you can’t figure out how to turn off the ignition, put the car in neutral (auto or standard) or simply stand on the brakes, unintended acceleration is only one of many driving dangers you should consider.

  • avatar

    The clutch is definitely a modification as a manual trans was not an option. The brake pedal is a mod as the standard one was the larger variety normally associated with an auto trans vehicle. The third mod I’m guessing is the accelerator pedal, smaller than the original, but I’m not sure about that.

    edit: as I think about it mid 80’s XR-7s had the turbo 2.3L and the man trans was available but I’ll stick with the three pedals being the mods because I think the 88 was the 5.0L auto.

  • avatar

    Had the same with my 94 Cougar; I drove it everyday to work, but on this day had a different pair of shoes (a bit wider) and managed to hit the gas and brake while approaching a stop sign. Got away from me for a few seconds before the brakes ultimately won.

  • avatar

    The point is, you recognized your error and was able to rectify it. The problem with most cases of SUI isn’t that people occasionally press the wrong pedal, it is that they don’t recognize that they’ve done so, don’t do anything to deal with the issue, and then blame the car.

    Yes, unintended acceleration (or pedal misapplication, as NHTSA calls it), can happen to anyone, but only the truly bad or oblivious drivers will let that occur for hundreds of feet before crashing into something.

  • avatar

    Because, like it or not, everyone is responsible for their actions.

    I wish.

  • avatar

    Sitting in my beater S-10 at Starbuck’s drive-thru…..spaced it and pulled my foot off the clutch while in gear. Thankfully the anemic 2.2 immediatley died or I would have bumped the Camry in front of me (irony?).

  • avatar

    is the clutch pedal turned 180 ?

  • avatar

    mtymsi just about nailed it, close enough for government work. The three modifications are:

    1. Mustang Clutch/Brake pedal assembly (No manual transmission option that year.)
    2. Lincoln Mark VII gas pedal (Same as Mustang)
    3. ’74 Pinto rubber brake pad (Perhaps disc brake promotion wasn’t necessary by the late 80s?)

  • avatar

    I love those little “Disc Brake” circles that Ford used to put on their brake pedals. Reminds me of big ass old LTD’s, Galxie 500’s and Torinos.

  • avatar

    I hated those Cougars back in the day, but they do have kind of a retro-cool vibe now. And those mods don’t hurt. Looking forward to your CC post, and I’m glad you and the Coug survived the “pedal misapplication” incident unscathed.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    I crashed my KH250 triple once with uncontrollable WOT.

    I fired it up, clutch in, side stand up, feet up, WOT, dump clutch, let off throttle, hold on for dear life, grab clutch on the way down, crawl to bike, turn off switch.

    I had been fooling with bars and cables and used up all the slack (or had too much I forget) and tightened it all up and then when I went wide open throttle cable housing pulled out of carbs and locked WOT.

    I was glad nobody was watching. Didn’t think to sue anybody.

  • avatar

    Several years ago I was test driving a VW Passat GLS (V6), when I decided it would be fun to push the gas nearly to the floor for a few seconds. However, when I lifted my foot, the pedal didn’t go with it. I had about fifteen seconds to stop the car before a red light intersection ahead and my gut reaction was simply to stand on the brakes. Not only did the brake force overwhelm the engine force, but after a few seconds of the two systems battling each other, the computer seemed to figure our what was going on and cut the power to the engine until I lifted off the brake again. At that point I simply turned the car off. Turns out that the gas pedal had become jammed under the corner of the floor mat (sound familiar?).

    When I returned the car I warned the owner that she may want to do something about the mat but she simply looked at me in disbelief.

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