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How to brake

By September 27, 2016July 11th, 2017Uncategorized

How to brake ?

It’s easy isn’t it? Just push the pedal down in the middle (Well unless you’re driving an automatic in which case push the pedal down on the left – But only push it down with your right foot or you’ll come to a stop much quicker than expected)

Well – That’s that article finished then.

Oh wait there’s a bit more to it

Feel ’em on, firm ’em up and feather ’em off –

(then head ’em up and roll em out)

Some other terms you might come across are  – three phase braking – progressive braking which are all the same thing.

But before we get into all that – As usual what does “The Essential Skills” say?

“Push it down lightly, then firmly, depress the clutch, then ease the pressure of the brake pedal just as the vehicle stops”

(Side note: It’s not always marked as fault on the ‘L’ driving test anymore, but then you put the handbrake on and go into neutral, in that order – This for very good reasons, to do otherwise is poor instruction which reduces your safety margin)


What does Roadcraft say?

Nearly exactly the same but it adds something missing from The Essential Skills

“Gently take up the initial free movement of the pedal” –

The initial travel on the brake pedal does naff all other than light the brake lights up, and the first bit of travel doesn’t even do that – This could be easily an inch worth of pedal travel before there is any braking effect – This is the feel ’em on phase or the first phase of ‘three phase braking’

Then you continue to push the pedal down until the vehicles slow to the amount you need, or stop.

People usually manage this part OK, except for the occasional junction overshoot and rear end collision, those that don’t, don’t last long.

This is the ‘firm ’em up’ phase.

It’s this last part that causes the problem. When you bring the vehicle to a halt, it should come to a ‘gliding halt’- your head shouldn’t move backwards and forwards you shouldn’t feel a jolt, the front of the car shouldn’t dip or raise either. You do this by ‘feathering them off”

So lets go back and look at the earlier “proper” Roadcraft

“A vehicle is most stable when the weight is evenly distributed the engine just pulling with no increase in road speed….a vehicle tends to settle down onto the road at the rear improving the grip of the tyres on the road surface”

“When braking to a standstill the final effort should be so judged that the vehicle is brought to a gliding halt without jerking or settling down suddenly at the rear end”

In effect you’re shifting the mass of the vehicle from the back to the front when you apply the brakes and then to the back again when you ease off the brakes, causing a rocking effect.

So how do you do this?

Well I could write all this myself, but I’m lazy and an acquaintance of mine; Reg Local, author of Advanced and Performance Driving, has already written it, and was kind enough to  give me permission to quote him here:

When braking to slow…. a driver will….concentrate on braking down to the appropriate speed, but then jump immediately off the brakes to get the appropriate gear…. It’s this “jumping off” the brakes which is the most common fault….

By jumping straight off the brakes, you’re unsettling the car and moving the weight and balance around in a rough manner.

If you take just half a second longer to come off the brakes, the weight transfer is managed in a much smoother manner and the car will be better balanced when you move to the accelerator and start to steer.

[The brake is just like the clutch or the accelerator, you shouldn’t just take your foot off those pedals either, the brake is no different L.B.]


When braking to a stop, many people have a habit of keeping a little too much pressure on the brake pedal just as the car actually comes to a full stop. Keeping too much pressure on makes the brakes “grab” at the point the car stops, and results in driver and passengers nodding forward in their seat, and then back into their head restraints.

This is a very common fault, and part of the problem is that drivers notice it less than passengers, so most ordinary drivers never pick the fault up or learn how to correct it.

The solution is very simple – just before the car comes to a stop, reduce the pressure on the brake pedal and reduce the rate of retardation for the last couple of feet. Once the car is down to 1 or 2mph, it will need only the slightest touch on the brake pedal to actually bring the car to a stop and it should be possible to come to a stop with almost no physical reaction by the car’s occupants.

One key aspect with this technique is that as soon as the car has actually stopped, you should then increase the pressure on the pedal until you have applied the handbrake or moved off. This is because the very light pressure required to roll the car to a stop is often not enough pressure to hold the car once it’s stationary. So the very light touch down to a stop should be followed by a quick increase in pressure to hold the car stationary”

 Some other notes

The Handbrake

handbrakeAlso started to be called the parking brake, although I don’t know why, I can think of several times you’d use it when you weren’t parking.

“When it’s a wait not a pause”  – Another generally meaningless phrase you’ll often hear thrown about, how long is a wait and how long is a pause?  Only use it when the vehicle is stationary. Think of it like an anchor on a ship – for use when you need to secure the vehicle.

The world of the handbrake is divided into Ratcheters and Non-Racheters  – by which I mean do you push the button in or not when applying the handbrake?

Ratcheters like to go around setting everyone’s teeth on edge and generally annoying them by just yanking the handbrake on.

Non-ratcheters, like to say this wears the ratchet out as you’re pulling metal on metal, which seems a bit fishy to me – I mean how times would have to keep applying the handbrake to wear it down?

Neither way is marked as a fault on the L test.

The correct method? Whatever the vehicle handbook says you should do. Some advise you to ratchet the handbrake when applying it to ensure the mechanism is locked correctly.

One last thing –

Stop Signs.

No you don’t have to apply the handbrake. You have to stop.

No it hasn’t changed it’s always been like this.
Yes I know your Driving Instructor probably told you different, this was because they either didn’t know, or wanted to establish to the examiner that you definitely had stopped. A roll forward however slow is not a stop!.

First if you don’t know what ABS is

ABS is fantastic – No it is really – It eliminates locked wheels and allows you to brake and steer at the same time, but it can actually lengthen stopping distances on some surfaces, such as loose snow, dirt, or gravel, because of effects that occur during locked-wheel skidding on those surfaces.

ABS makes the pedal vibrate when it activates. Just keep your foot pinned.

Braking on a corner

Of course you should never brake on a corner – what you’re supposed to do is just hit something instead……?

If you’re using cornering techniques correctly you shouldn’t need to brake when cornering, but that said if you need to brake then brake!

The car is not likely to suddenly fly off the road, I’ve tried it at speed on off road limit handling courses and the cars stopped without problem on its own side of the road. Either way the outcome is going to be better than not braking.

Cadence Braking (pronounced kay-dence)

This is a pre-ABS technique, that does exactly the same as ABS but slower as you’re doing it not the computer and should not be attempted on a vehicle with ABS.

It’s much loved by PDI’s studying for PST 5 who love to waffle on about it in the briefing, Cadence braking is not simply pumping the foot brake!

You won’t be able to do this effectively without practice, and without practice it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll have the presence of mind and ability to do it in an emergency should the situation arise. It also takes a certain strength of character to take your foot off the brake pedal when you think you’re about to crash!

ABS has been mandatory since July 2004 on all cars sold in the UK and was standard on most cars from about the mid 90’s, so you most likely won’t need to do it anyway. The Police don’t even train for this any more.

Threshold Braking

The maximum amount of braking power is just prior to when the wheels are locked or when ABS kicks in – Simples – Once the wheels are locked you loose all braking efficiency so it has to be the point just prior to that. Threshold braking is when you hold the brakes just around this point –  This requires a great deal of concentration and the ability to judge when the wheels are about to lock which will be dependent on the road surface material, temperature, tire compound and wear, condition of brakes and a million other things. So again don’t try this.

Left foot braking

Yes I know rally drivers and racing drivers use left foot braking, to enable them to keep the revs up.  I’ve driven under an Act of Parliament as fast as you’d want to go on the public roads and I’ve never needed to stop and go at the same time when doing it. It’s not taught for Police or civilian advanced driving tests either.

Also don’t try it, as you’ll most likely head-butt the steering wheel the first time you do, and also don’t do it in an automatic – Although some of our American cousins seem to have a different view on this.


I’ll talk about this in more detail in a later post but here’s something to be getting on with in the meantime –

Forget that old wives tale about steering in the direction of the skid.


If you’re driving the red arrow and there’s ice on the road and you enter the corner a bit too fast, into a a straight line skid towards the trees, are you going to keep steering towards the trees?

Look where you want to go and steer there, don’t steer straight towards the thing you are trying to avoid hitting!