Friday, October 8, 2010

Riding the Brakes

“When you step on the brakes your life is in your foot's hands”
-George Carlin

“I couldn't repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder”
-Steven Wright (?)

Today I'd like to further investigate automotive braking. Proper braking is a skill that can be specific to your car. The rules for dealing with a skid is different for front-drive and rear-drive cars. Do you turn into the skid or away from it? How about the rule of "pumping" the brakes for an emergency stop to avoid skidding? Today this is the wrong thing to do in cars with Anti-Lock Brakes; you need to push the pedal to the floor and let the brakes automatically pump themselves.

There are many bad habits of braking. The most common is "riding the brakes." This means constantly or frequently applying the brake with many light taps. The worst case is two foot drivers with a foot on each the brake and gas. Don't do this! Hitting the gas and brake at the same time can damage your car.

The opposite of brake riding is a "brake check." This means hitting the brake very abruptly with a lot of force. "Brake checks" can cause serious accidents when the driver behind you is unable to respond quickly enough and rear-ends your car. Brake checks should be used only for emergencies when you're about to hit something or someone in front of you.

Do you brake while turning a corner? This can actually cause loss of control on a curve. The best practice 90% of the time is to apply the brakes before the curve or corner, make the turn, than apply the accelerator.

The properly amount of brake pressure may be more art than science. Or a bit like Goldilocks. Not too light (riding) but not too heavy either. You have to discover the amount of pressure that is just right for the situation. The most brake pressure is needed when you first brake because the inertia is greatest; you can and should lighten your touch on the brake as you slow down. Many people drive the opposite - start with a light touch on the brake and stop hard at the end.

Bottom Line

Like any skill you ought to practice braking. Just about everyone underestimates the distance required to come to a full stop. Visit an empty parking lot (e.g. a church and school that is closed), pick a line in the middle of lot that is clear of obstacles like light poles or curbs, and practise stopping before crossing that line. Try this on dry pavement, wet pavement after a storm and on icy pavement.


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