Nissan Frontier - Sudden Acceleration or Just a Mistake?



In April, my mother got into our Nissan Frontier, which was parked at a supermarket parking lot and ended up in a collision with 2 parked vehicles! Her story of events were that the car would not start initially and then when it did and she pressed on the accelerator, it leapt forward and would not stop - she is adamant that she was pressing on the brakes so hard to try and stop the car but the only thing that did eventually stop it was when it hit another parked car, which in turn hit one more parked car! The Frontier was a write off, the airbag had inflated, but luckily there were no serious injuries. When my husband was speaking with the policeman, he said he reckoned she had mistaken the brake for the gas pedal but she swears that the vehicle went off so quickly and really it all happened so fast she can’t really recall but her foot was very bruised from apparently trying to press the brake pedal so hard. My question is, who is
likely to be more correct, the policeman or my mother? This has become a slight elephant in the room and you can imagine the jokes my husband now tells that his mother-in-law wrote his vehicle off, but at the same time I really want to know what the real reason for this accident could have been and whether it actually could have been a sudden acceleration incident or whether that is not possible when one first drives off from a parked position? My husband strongly feels that she left the car in gear and when she started the engine it would not start initially but then it jumped ahead and she didn’t have time to think about it. I know we may not be able to solve this little mystery but I would love to get some views and opinions on this or whether the car could have malfunctioned or whether it was human error? Not least to draw a line under the event and move on with things!

Many thanks, Allyson


I used to drive a wrecker many years ago. I don’t know how many vehicles I pulled out of storefront windows, parking lot light poles and away from other parked vehicles where the driver claimed they were stepping on the brakes instead of the accelerator. In every instance that I know of…the driver was actually pressing on the accelerator. During the investigations one curious fact came to light. All of the drivers involved used their left foot to brake and the right foot to accelerate. This is a very bad habit to have when driving any motor vehicle. It’s very dangerous for obvious reasons. The policeman is probably correct in his assessment and I only say this because I have experience in these types of collisions.


Thank you so much for taking the time to answer and relay your own professional experiences - it sounds as though it is a common mistake and one that in my heart I feel really happened to my mother; we never had a problem with any type of ‘sudden acceleration’ in all of the time we were driving the vehicle, however I did feel I needed to try and clear it up just to put my own mind to rest! In truth, we will never really know what happened and it is time to move on - I am just thankful nobody was seriously hurt or walking in the parking lot at the time…Once again, thank you very much!


Don’t presume this was a driver error.

There’s a component on the engine called the Idle Air Contol valve. These valves can fail where the engine idle speed goes out of control. This happened to a co-worker. They were pulling into gas station while in gear when IAC valve went into the wrong position. The engine reved up and no matter how hard they pushed the brake pedal, they ended up taking out two gas pumps. Plus destroying the front of the vehicle.

When the firemen arrived, they thought they could just start the vehicle and move it away from the gas pumps. But when they started the engine, the engine raced to a point where they knew they couldn’t put in gear. Unless they wanted to run something else over.




My gut feeling is driver error

It would be pretty difficult for a vehicle to lurch forward if it was in park

If the vehicle did somehow start in drive position, then the neutral safety switch was defective

In any case, this story proves that it’s a good idea to leave the parking brake engaged until it’s time to drive off


My vote is drive error and in almost every case the driver will swear they did not touch the pedals incorrectly. In most cases the driver will honestly think they did not screw up; in other cases they may feel a bit sheepish after the fact and just won’t admit to it. Odds are it’s happened to everyone at some point to one degree or the other and I’ll 'fess up to doing this a few times.
The initial reaction is “Not me…” but some afterthought usually showed it was me.

If the Frontier has an automatic transmission then one would have to believe there was a series of coincidences.
The gear selector would have had to be in the drive position, the neutral switch failed, the engine revving to heaven for whatever reason, and the brakes did not override the torque converter.

Many years ago an 80 year old man here managed to take out 4 cars besides his own, a number of parking meters, and chunks of the curb while trying to parallel park downtown. He was insistent that the brakes and accelerator pedals were malfunctioning but witnesses stated that he kept shifting between Drive and Reverse while holding the accelerator pedal down. It was just sheer luck there was no one on the sidewalk at the time in that particular spot.