Before You Start Driving
Braking Techniques

Braking Techniques for Smooth Driving, Control & Reduced Stopping Distance

Updated Oct. 26, 2020

New drivers often make the mistake of slamming their foot down on the brake pedal when they need to slow down, even when the situation does not demand a sudden stop. This type of hard or jerky braking is nearly always bad for your car and often dangerous. There a variety of complex techniques involved in slowing down or stopping your vehicle; slamming on the brakes is rarely the best course of action.

Slowing down and stopping

When you need to slow down or stop your car in a non-emergency situation, begin by tapping the brake pedal lightly to activate your brake lights. This will signal your intention to slow down to motorists behind you, who can then increase their following distance. Always check your mirrors to make sure it is safe to continue braking.

Remember that you may be able to achieve the desired speed reduction simply by removing your foot from the accelerator; applying the brakes is not always necessary. If you do need to reapply the brakes, do so with a smooth, building pressure. When stopping completely, be sure to hold your foot down on the brake pedal to prevent the vehicle from rolling, until you wish to move off.

Braking techniques

Every vehicle responds to pressure on the brake pedal a little differently. In time, you will get to know how your vehicle operates and adjust the way you use the brakes to suit different situations. In general driving situations, it is best to use the brakes gently and gradually increase pressure as needed.

It will be apparent if you are not pressing hard enough as the vehicle will not slow down. If you apply too much force to the brake pedal your vehicle may lurch rather than slowing smoothly. In extreme cases of over-braking, the wheels could lock causing your vehicle to skid.

Controlled braking

When you must slow down and maintain a lower speed, press the brakes smoothly while applying steady pressure. Ease off the brake pedal once your vehicle has reached an appropriate speed. This is known as controlled braking and would be used when entering a low-speed stretch of road, for instance, around a school or construction zone.

Threshold braking

Braking can be used to improve your car’s grip on the road’s surface, by transferring weight to the front wheels. This traction-increasing technique is known as threshold braking. When threshold braking, you should brake with the maximum pressure possible that does not lock the wheels. Repeatedly braking to this threshold and then easing off will stop your vehicle quickly, while maintaining enough control to steer effectively.

Cover braking

Cover braking should allow you to slow smoothly over relatively short distances. It involves removing your right foot from the accelerator and hovering it over the brake pedal, without initially applying any pressure. Your vehicle will start to slow without the brakes, simply because you have eased off the gas. The transition from accelerating to braking will be smoother as a result.

Other ways to slow your vehicle

Pressing the brake pedal is an automatic reaction for many less experienced drivers. Overusing the brakes can damage your car and render the braking system ineffective. Remember, there are other methods you can use to slow the vehicle.

  1. 1

    Ease off the gas pedal.
    Slight reductions in speed can be achieved simply by removing your foot from the accelerator.

  2. 2

    Cars with a manual transmission can be slowed by downshifting to a lower gear. Be careful not to suddenly shift to a much lower gear, as this could ultimately over-rev your engine and cause damage.

  3. 3

    Use the parking brake.
    In emergency situations where your ordinary brakes have failed to completely stop the vehicle, applying your parking brake can finish the job. Do not apply your parking brake when traveling at high-speed as your vehicle will skid.

What affects stopping distance?

Stopping distance is the length of time it takes to bring your vehicle to a complete stop. Your car’s stopping distance is not always the same and is influenced by several factors, which we discuss below.

  1. 1

    Perception time.
    The time it takes to notice a hazard on the roadway ahead.

  2. 2

    Decision-making time.
    The time it takes to decide you must stop, and how you should execute that stop.

  3. 3

    Reaction time.
    The time it takes to carry out that decision.

  4. 4

    Braking time.
    The time it takes your car to stop once you have applied the brakes. In good conditions with sound brakes, a vehicle traveling at 50mph has a braking distance of roughly 158 feet.

Calculating stopping distance is never straightforward, though there is one key rule which all motorists must remember: the faster your vehicle is traveling, the longer it will take to stop. Braking time increases exponentially with speed:

  • A vehicle traveling at 40mph will take four times longer to stop than a vehicle traveling at 20mph.
  • A vehicle traveling at 60mph will take nine times longer to stop than a vehicle traveling at 20mph.
  • A vehicle traveling at 80mph will take 16 times longer to stop than a vehicle traveling at 20mph.

Total stopping distance is the minimum distance your car will travel from the moment you perceive a hazard, to the moment it comes to a complete stop. As shown here:

Total stopping distance = perception time + decision-making time + reaction time + braking time.

When factoring everything into the equation, a car with good brakes which is traveling at 50mph, in decent conditions, has a total stopping distance of around 268 feet. This is almost the length of a football field.

It is essential to think ahead and allow yourself extra time to stop wherever possible. Better to stop too soon and ease your foot off the brake than to miscalculate and hit something. Be aware that worn tires, ineffective brakes, slick roadways, rain, snow and mud will all add more time to your braking distance.

Know your braking system

While becoming a good driver does not require an in-depth knowledge of car mechanics, you do need to know what type of braking system your vehicle uses. Braking systems can largely be organized into two categories: conventional disc brake systems (or disc and drum brakes, in older vehicles) and antilock braking systems (ABS). Different braking techniques should be employed based on which system your car uses.

In conventional disc brakes, pressing the brake pedal operates a hydraulic system that applies pressure to a disc rotating with the wheel, using a pair of brake pads. The friction this causes will slow and stop the vehicle. Standard disc braking systems rely on the driver to apply the appropriate amount of pressure to slow the car without locking the wheels and causing a skid. On vehicles with ABS, an electronic system manages the application of the brake pads when you press the brakes, resulting in safer and more effective braking – if the system is used correctly.

Antilock braking systems (ABS)

If your vehicle has ABS, sensors on the disc brakes will detect when the wheel begins to lock up and pulse or ease off the brake pads accordingly. Pumping the brake pedal can prevent wheel lock on cars with standard brakes, though you should never attempt this on a vehicle with an antilock braking system. ABS should be used by applying firm, constant pressure to the brake pedal, as the system will automatically correct wheel lock. Pumping ABS brakes is dangerous because releasing the brake pedal will deactivate the electronic controls.

Riding the brake

Covering the brake can quickly turn into riding the brake, if you rest your foot on the brake pedal. Riding the brake is bad news for your car as it can rapidly wear out your brakes and tires. It can also confuse drivers to your rear by switching on your brake lights. Be extremely careful not to apply pressure to the brakes when hovering your foot.

Pumping the brakes

As we mentioned above, pumping the brakes is a technique that should ONLY be used in vehicles with standard brakes as it would disable an antilock braking system. Pressing the brake pedal all the way down on a vehicle with standard brakes could lock your wheels, cause a loss of pressure in the hydraulic system and throw the car into a skid. If this happens, you should ease your foot off the brakes until the wheels begin to turn and regain traction. Pressure can be restored to the hydraulic system by pumping the brakes.

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