How to Handle a Stuck Gas Pedal

Have you seen the harrowing footage of the Kia Sorento that malfunctioned and sped up to 115 mph on a Missouri highway last weekend? The driver, Lauri Ulvestad, managed to dial 911 with one hand and drive her-out-of-control car with other, weaving in and out of highway traffic, avoiding trucks by driving onto the shoulder and speeding through orange-barrel construction zones for more than 45 minutes.

We remember similar stories a few years ago about "runaway car" incidents that ultimately led to a massive recall of Toyota vehicles. While each incident is unique and may require its own unique solution, experts agree on these basic steps to try if you're ever involved in something like this.

  • Even before you drive, make sure the floormat isn't the culprit. See that it is fit properly and does not slide under the accelerator pedal.
  • If you need to stop immediately while driving, the vehicle can be controlled by stepping on the brake pedal with both feet, using firm and steady pressure. Do not pump the brake pedal, as that will deplete the vacuum used for the power brake assist.  
  • Shift the transmission gear selector to the Neutral position, and use the brakes to make a controlled stop at the side of the road and turn off the engine.
  • If you can't put the vehicle in Neutral, turn the engine off. This will not cause loss of steering or braking control, but the power assist to these systems will be lost.
  • If the vehicle is equipped with an engine start/stop button, firmly and steadily push the button for 1 to 3 seconds in Kia models, at least 3 seconds in Toyota vehicles to turn off the engine. Do not tap the button.
  • If the vehicle is equipped with a key ignition, turn the key to the ACC position to turn off the engine. Do not remove the key from the ignition, as this will lock the steering wheel.

In Ulvestad's case, these steps didn't work. She couldn't shift the transmission into Neutral, and the brake pedal seemingly didn't work. Ulvestad was finally able to slow and stop her car by lifting up on the accelerator pedal with one foot while simultaneously pressing on the brake with the other foot.

It's scary to think about being involved in something like this, but it's worth it to take the time now to commit these steps to memory.

It's like life insurance: It may be totally unpleasant to even think about it now, but there may come a time when you'll feel grateful for having gone through the discomfort.

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Former Senior Family Editor Kristin Varela blends work and family life by driving her three tween-teen girls every which way in test cars.  Email Kristin

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