An unusual pedestrian accident in Newport News, Virginia (VA), on the afternoon of January 19, 2018, sent a woman who is nine months pregnant to the hospital with leg injuries. She was hit by an SUV that went airborne after striking a curb in a parking lot outside a Starbucks in the 700 block of J. Clyde Morris Boulevard.
According to Newport News police, the incident began at around 2:30 pm when the 63-year-old SUV driver rear-ended another vehicle, went out of control, sideswiped a second vehicle and entered the parking lot. The driver could not explain why she rear-ended the first vehicle but claimed that a floor mat covered her brake pedal and made it impossible to stop after the initial collision.
The pregnant woman did not suffer life-threatening injuries, and news reports indicated that her soon-to-be-born baby appeared to be unharmed.
Crash researchers call events like this one in Newport News “pedal application errors.” When the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reviewed news reports of crashes in which a driver apparently mistook the accelerator for the brake, the agency determined that a pedal getting trapped under a floor mat happened very infrequently. Among 520 wrecks, just 2-3 percent could plausibly be blamed on a loose floor mat.
A finding like that calls the Newport News driver’s explanation for why she could not stop before hitting the pregnant pedestrian into question, but a complete investigation will be needed to reveal exactly what did happen. For now, the driver faces a single reckless driving charge.
The alleged offense is most likely reckless driving in a parking lot, which section 46.2-864 of the Virginia Code defines as operating “on any driveway or premises of a church, school, recreational facility, or business or governmental property open to the public” in a way that “endangers the life, limb, or property of any person.”
A separate but similar state statute, section 46.2-852, addresses reckless driving on a state highway like J. Clyde Morris Boulevard. The criminal penalty is the same since both offenses are treated as Class I misdemeanors punishable by a six-month license suspension, a fine of as much as $2,500, six points on the DMV record and a potential jail sentence of up to 12 months.
Aside from creating law enforcement problems for the driver, this crash threatened the life of a pregnant mother and her unborn child. The worst did not happen, but no pregnant woman can take a car crash lightly. When the injured pedestrian’s health permits her to do so, she should consider consulting with an experienced Virginia personal injury lawyer who can help her hold the at-fault driver accountable for paying medical bills.