ABS brakes can add to stopping distances

Wheels contributor Ian Law discusses brakes, and braking techniques, as we head into the winter.

By Wheels Wheels.ca

Nov 21, 2011 3 min. read

Article was updated 12 years ago

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Many motorists overestimate their braking skills and their vehicle's braking ability.

This time of year, tire grip levels start to diminish as temperatures drop and road surfaces change. We soon could be driving on snow, ice, slush or asphalt covered in sand, salt or water and each of these variables has an effect on how well our tires grip and how effective our brakes are.

The ideal gap from the vehicle in front of us should be at least two seconds. That gives us time to assess the situation and determine the appropriate action, which works out to be approximately half a second to a second. Then we will need another half a second to react and actually apply the brakes.

More: Here's why it pays to brake slowly

More: Here's the secret to surviving winter driving

Keep in mind, studies show that the vast majority of drivers do not apply the brakes hard enough in the first stages of emergency braking and lose valuable stopping distance.

In temperatures below seven degrees Celsius, winter tires will shorten your stopping distances on all types of road surfaces and especially on ice and snow compared to all season tires. On ice and snow, a quality brand of winter tire can shorten stopping distances by 50 per cent, compared to an all season tire.

Here is a fact that catches a lot of motorists by surprise: if the vehicle we are driving is equipped with ABS brakes, our stopping distances on ice and snow will be longer than if our vehicle did not have ABS brakes. In older vehicles and less expensive vehicles, ABS can lengthen our stopping distances by up to 50 per cent compared to non-ABS. In more modern vehicles and, in particular, ones with very sophisticated ABS braking systems, the difference is not so pronounced.

When we double our speed, our braking distances are not twice as long. They are four times as long. In other words, if it takes our vehicle 50 metres to stop from 50 km/h, it will take 200 metres to stop our vehicle from 100 km/h. Our braking distances will square with our speed. Which means our braking distance would be an astounding 450 metres if we tripled our speed to 150 km/h

When driving on wet roads, we can expect our braking distances to at least double, compared to a dry road. On snow or icy roads we are looking at braking distances that are a staggering 10 times longer.

All vehicles are not created equal and that also applies to braking efficiency. High performance sports cars and sedans usually have the most effective braking systems and shortest stopping distances. The most expensive vehicles tend to have the most sophisticated ABS systems and the biggest brakes. Pickup trucks tend to have the longest stopping distances of all vehicles followed by minivans and SUVs.

Adding weight to the vehicle or towing a trailer also makes braking distances noticeably longer. When towing a trailer full of snowmobiles, we have to at least double all the stopping distances.

The worst case scenario would be an older pickup truck with ABS on old all-season or off-road tires pulling a trailer full of snowmobiles on a wintery day. It seems to me that this is not an uncommon sight on our roads each winter.

We all have to give our braking the respect it deserves. In winter conditions, slow down and leave more space for the vehicle in front.

Give your brakes a break and you won't end up stuffed into the vehicle in front trying to come up with an excuse for why you couldn’t stop in time.


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