Is hitting the wrong pedal a crime?

Last spring there was an unusual fatal crash in my area. Two people were run over by a car. The unusual part was, they were inside a restaurant at the time. So the incident got more coverage than usual.

This week, the driver was arraigned on motor vehicle homicide charges.

Based on the coverage the facts look simple. A guy with health problems was going downhill approaching the end of the street. He hit the gas instead of the brake and accelerated through the intersection, across the sidewalk, and into the restaurant.

Is hitting the wrong pedal a crime?

Here’s where Massachusetts is different than most states.

In some states police would ticket him for going out of his lane and that’s all it would be, a $100 fine. It’s not criminal homicide unless they prove more than a moving violation. I’ve read plenty of stories where somebody got run over and the driver, though at fault, paid only a fine.

In Massachusetts the law says if you make a mistake while driving and somebody dies, you can go to jail. Police do not have to prove that some specific moving violation was the cause of death. The legal standard is “negligence” — was the driver at fault. It’s up to the jury to decide if hitting the wrong pedal is an “oops” or a crime.

Old drivers get a deal where they give up their licenses forever and don’t go to jail.

I would have expected a similar deal here, based on the likelihood that the driver’s poor health was a major contributor, but the publicity in this case has the prosecutor looking for more.

What do you think? What’s the right price for driving while sick, hitting the wrong pedal, and killing two people?

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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2 Responses to “Is hitting the wrong pedal a crime?”

  1. S A GOULD says:

    Being momentarily distracted and hitting the wrong pedal, or being in reverse when I wanted to go forward (on my own property) has happened to me. And I immediately stopped. But if you hit the gas pedal by mistake *and* fail to notice this immediately, but also *accelerate* to the point of *totally loosing control of your car,* not only should you not be driving, ever, there have probably been warning signs of this previously. As an older driver, I take the AARP Driver Safety Courses each year and am acutely aware that my response times are/will decrease and driving hazards increase, (drivers and pedestrians). I love driving my own car, but I will give it up voluntarily, before there is a *chance* of killing people out of my own negligence.

  2. Ken in NH says:

    It depends. Should the driver has reasonably known that his illness or treatment could impair his ability to drive? For example, was he epileptic and warned by his doctor that he should not drive? On the other hand, he could have had a run of the mill cold that was more serious than he thought, maybe developing into pneumonia, that most reasonable people would not think it would impair them.