Phantom Brake Phenomenon in Survivors of Car Accidents


  •   Zack Z. Cernovsky

  •   Milad Fattahi


Background: Survivors of high impact car accidents, when traveling in cars as passengers, may exhibit the phantom brake reaction. The reaction consists of involuntarily pressing the foot on the floor of the car in a reflexive attempt "to brake", even though there is no brake pedal in front of the passenger seat. This study examines the incidence and correlates of this special phenomenon.

Method: De-identified data of 114 survivors (37 men, 77 women; mean age 38.6, SD=12.4) of high impact motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) were available, with their responses to the Brief Pain Inventory, Insomnia Severity Index, Rivermead Post-Concussion Symptoms Questionnaire, Subjective Neuropsychological Symptoms Scale (SNPSS), PTSD Checklist for DSM-5 (PCL-5), ratings of depression and of generalized anxiety, and 3 questionnaire measures of driving anxiety, i.e., Whetstone’s, Steiner’s, and the Driving Anxiety Questionnaire (DAQ). One item of the DAQ assesses the phantom brake phenomenon on a 4-point scale (0=No, 1=Mild, 2=Moderate, 3=Severe): this is the key variable in the present study.

Results: Mild to severe forms of the phantom brake reaction were reported by 92.1% of the post-MVA patients. Significant correlations (p<0.05, 2-tailed) were found of the intensity of phantom brake reaction to the intensity of post-MVA pain (rs from 0.20 to 0.33), insomnia (r=0.40), the Rivermead post-concussion scale (r=.29), other post-concussive and whiplash symptoms as measured by the SNPSS (r=0.19), depression (r=0.30), generalized anxiety (r=0.32), and to DAQ (r=0.47) and Whetstone’s (r=0.50) measures of driving anxiety. No significant relationships were found of the phantom brake reaction to age and gender.

Discussion and Conclusion: The phantom brake reaction was reported by almost all post-MVA patients and can be considered as a part of their post-MVA polytraumatic symptom pattern.

Keywords: phantom brake reaction, pain, post-concussion syndrome, whiplash syndrome, driving anxiety


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How to Cite
Cernovsky, Z. Z., & Fattahi, M. (2021). Phantom Brake Phenomenon in Survivors of Car Accidents. European Journal of Clinical Medicine, 2(3), 9–13.