February 26, 2009 | Barb Carr

Driving Incident Tip: When your brakes go out!

Often we don’t think through or do not have the training to respond during an emergency. Very similar to applying a corrective action to a known root cause… but failing to check for unintended consequences before it’s too late. So what corrective action would you take if your brakes failed while driving?

Using the parking brake is indeed a last resort, precisely because of the danger that it will trigger an uncontrolled skid.

Leaving the vehicle in gear is partially correct but this is greatly improved by going down progressively through the gears. (Even this, if done too swiftly, can create a skid, so care is needed.) In an automatic car one should use the full range of “numbered” gears and go from D to 3 (if there is a 3), pause to let the vehicle slow down, change from 3 to 2, pause to let the vehicle slow down, and finally change from 2 to 1.

In a manual (i.e. “stick shift”) vehicle then one should go down through the gears progressively, in a similar fashion, keeping the clutch down as briefly as possible for each gear change.

It is important to remember NOT to try turning the engine off while the vehicle is still moving quickly. This would not only terminate all power-assistance you might have on any residual braking possibilities but also cancel the power steering (which may make an unprepared driver panic altogether), and –worst of all — if you turned the key too far it could easily result in your steering lock engaging.

Finally, remember that if a brake pedal does “floor” without any pressure, then if it springs back up again it **might** be possible to create some hydraulic pressure and active braking by repeatedly pumping the pedal. It might work and it might not.

by permission of Advanced Drivers of America

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