Monday, December 22, 2014

Flip-flops a deadly menace on the nation's highways?

An investigator photographing an SUV that killed three women after the driver got a flip-flop tangled in the gas pedal in Voorheesville, N.Y. in August 2011. (Associated Press photo)
An investigator photographing an SUV that killed three women after the driver got a flip-flop tangled in the gas pedal in Voorheesville, N.Y. in August 2011. (Associated Press photo)

Are flip-flops a deadly menace on the nation’s highways?

“Study: Flip-Flops Cause 1.4 Million Accidents Or Close Calls,” warns a MyFoxPhilly.com headline.

Good lord, you think, since that was just for Britain, maybe tens of millions of U.S. scary traffic situations can be blamed on flimsy footwear.

It’s a flip-flop-ocalypse!

Have you worn flip-flops while driving?
Yes, and I blame the flip-flops for an accident.
Yes, and though I never had a accident, I almost had one.
Yes, and I've never had a problem.
No, but I did have an accident because of other footwear (such as high heels, sandals, boots)
No, but I was in accident where guilty driver was wearing flip-flops.
No, and no accidents related to footwear.

Or maybe not.

While flip-flops have been blamed for the occasional fatal accident, they’re legal to wear while driving and hardly show up in national accident numbers.

The study, a poll from female-friendly British insurer Sheila’s Wheels, found that 1 in 14 drivers blames flip-flops for “a past near-miss or accident on the roads.”

That’s the basis for the nightmarish million-plus number.

But, to examine this carefully, “past” means, well, “ever.” And “near-miss” (despite literally meaning that something didn’t miss) could refer to all sorts of things that, well, didn’t amount to much.

Like my hundreds of near-wins in Powerball.

Britain, it turns out, had about 167,000 accidents last year. That means flip-flops would have to cause 10 percent of all accidents for about eighty years to be responsible for 1.4 million of them.

Scares, one suspects, must overwhelmingly outnumber incidents of actual damage.

Indeed, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “pedal misapplication crashes” happen about 15 times a month in the United States.

That’s right, just 180 times a year, and that includes high heels, cowboy boots and bare feet, as well as all kinds of reasons, like being distracted by a cellphone and medical problems resulting in loss of feeling in lower limb.

That's not to say flip-flops never get blamed for tragedies.

In 2010, a bicyclist was struck and killed near Pittsburgh by a pickup after the teenage driver apparently got his flip-flops tangled in the pedals.

In 2011, three female pedestrians were killed after a woman lost control of her SUV, apparently because a flip flop fell off and became wedged under the gas pedal.

For the past two years, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles warned drivers not to wear open-heeled footwear, “such as flip-flops or sandals because these types of shoes can slip off and wedge under accelerator or brake pedals.”

An NHTSA spokesman, however, said it had no specific counts for accidents related to footwear. And its “pedal misapplication crashes” report mentions flip-flops only once, during a set of five recommendations: “Educate drivers about proper footwear for driving (e.g., no flip-flops)” followed teaching people how to properly position their seats and better operate their vehicles.

New Jersey – home to many Shore communities where flip-flops are a familiar part of summer attire – has no law prohibiting drivers from wearing flip-flops, according to state police.

AAA Midlantic spokeswoman Jenny Robinson emailed to say she couldn’t find any research on flip-flop-related accidents that had been published by AAA.

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

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