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The seven steps of safe stopping

Published December 17, 2012
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Bringing a vehicle to a safe stop may sound overly simple and most motorists don’t give the act a second thought. However there is more to it than most believe.

Safety experts have found that in an emergency, most drivers do not apply the brake hard enough or soon enough. This has prompted manufacturers such as Mercedes Benz to add “Brake Assist” that can tell when full braking is required and will go to 100 per cent braking before the driver can. This safety feature can take several metres off the braking distance in an emergency. The difference can be stopping in time or at the least reducing the speed of the vehicle at impact, thus minimizing damage and injuries.

In our advanced driving courses it is surprising how many motorists are reluctant to use full braking force in our emergency braking exercise. Almost half of the motorists, regardless of their driving experience, are unable to go to full out ABS (anti-lock braking system). This seems to be due to their unfamiliarity and discomfort with the feel and sounds of ABS braking. Once they understand that the pulsing pedal feel is normal and only a sign that the ABS is working do they feel fine with braking hard and invoking ABS. It takes repetition and coaching to get many motorists comfortable with emergency braking.

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Many motorists are not aware that the technique of coming to a safe halt at a red light or stop sign is not a simple procedure. Stopping safely is not just stepping on the brake pedal at the last second. There is a technique to stopping that most drivers are unaware of.

Here are the seven steps of safe stopping.

1. Never rush up to a red light or stop sign and brake at the last second. This may seem like the quickest way to get around but in reality the tiny amount of time saved is not worth the extra wear and tear on your brake pads and rotors or the added danger of having the driver behind run into to you. Instead, drivers should slow gradually and come to an easy stop. This forces the vehicles behind to slow more gradually reducing the chances of being “rear ended”. It is also a lot easier on your brake components, possibly saving drivers hundreds of repair dollars per year. Slowing gradually also allows the drivers of the cross street traffic to know your vehicle will stop. Rushing up to a stop sign can fool cross traffic drivers into thinking that vehicle will run the stop sign.

2. Motorists should always check their rear view mirrors every time they slow or stop for traffic, stop signs or red lights. It’s a sad reality that some people, for whatever reason, fail to stop in time for red lights and stop signs. Thus, always approach these stops knowing that there will be unreliable drivers coming up behind you. Rear end collisions can be serious and are avoidable. They can also be deadly.

3. Never pull up directly behind the vehicle in front. Always leave one or two car lengths between you and the vehicle in front. This gives you an “out” should the vehicle behind you not stop in time. Stopping too close to the vehicle in front of you locks you into being a victim if the vehicle behind should not stop.

4. Scan for an exit strategy. Look for a place to escape to if the vehicle behind does not stop. Can you pull into another lane, up on the sidewalk, down in the ditch or around the corner? Any place is better than sitting there waiting to be driven into the vehicle in front of you or into cross traffic at an intersection.

5. Now that our roads are becoming slicker with frost, snow and even salt, give yourself extra braking distance by being prepared and testing the level of grip. When you know you must stop, do a test brake to see how much grip the road surface has. Note, this test braking should not be done when another vehicle is following you too closely. It is common at this time of year to have frost or black ice on our roads. At times this icy surface may not be easy to see. It makes sense not to wait until the last second to find out if the road surface is icy or not. A simple test brake before you get to the intersection can help you establish how much grip the road is offering.

6. On wintry roads at intersections, ice can form in the tire tracks. Be prepared for these icy spots. If you find yourself braking in these iced tire tracks, pull to the right slightly so your tires are in the snow or on the gravel shoulder. This will offer a better braking surface than the icy tire tracks. Take note that the vehicle behind you will probably be braking on those same icy patches and be ready to get out of their way.

7. Learn about your vehicle’s braking system and its limitations. All vehicles are not created equal especially in the braking department. Some vehicles can stop up to 30 metres shorter than others from the same speed. Some ABS braking systems are quite complex and offer excellent braking and steering capability. Others are simple and will not allow the driver to brake and steer at the same time. Advanced driving schools (at which you use your own vehicle) will teach emergency braking skills and allow you to become familiar with your vehicle’s braking features, abilities and limitations.

Stopping safely is not as simple as just pushing down on the brake pedal. It involves a lot more.

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