How to Brake While Driving

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While common sense plays the largest factor into braking effectively and safely while driving, knowing how your car brakes will optimize your success. There are many factors to consider when braking. One of the most important is to understand that the brakes on your vehicle will stop the wheels, but the tires stop the vehicle. If too much kinetic energy is transferred to the brakes and the tires cannot respond in time, you've placed your vehicle and yourself at great risk.

  • Check and adjust the tire pressure in all four tires of your vehicle every time you gas up. Low or high tire pressure takes away from the tires' ability to effectively stop the vehicle. Obtain the correct tire pressure for you vehicle located on the tire information placard (usually located on the driver's side door jamb or in the vehicle owner's manual) and adjust the tires to the recommended air pressure. While checking and adjusting tire pressure, also have a look at the tire tread.

  • Pay attention when driving. One of the leading causes of fender benders is a driver being distracted. This situation takes the driver's attention away from the road and, even for a mere second, this can be disastrous for a moving vehicle. The faster the car is going, the longer distance it is going to need to effectively brake.

  • Look ahead at the traffic in front of you. Apply the two-second rule, but you're better off applying a three- or four-second rule. This is when the vehicle in front of you passes an object and it takes your vehicle another three to four seconds to pass the same object. Driving closer to the vehicle in front of you not only creates a driving hazard, but you're also going to have to brake as often as that car does and if it panic stops, your vehicle's brakes and tires may not have the same response.

  • Coast your vehicle and practice not having to brake often. This works in conjunction to Step 3 if you're leaving enough room between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you. Allow your car to naturally slow down by not over accelerating and removing your foot from the accelerator pedal when approaching closer to the car in front of you instead of automatically braking. Speed is the number one cause of premature brake wear. If you're applying Step 3 and you notice the brake lights are coming on a car that is three or four cars ahead of you, simply take your foot off the accelerator and anticipate the other cars behind the one braking will have to slow down.

  • Practice your vehicle's braking response. Practice this in a non-traffic area to get a feel of how much distance it takes for your vehicle to stop---without skidding the tires---from 30 mph, 45 mph and 60 mph.

  • Do not stomp on the brake pedal to panic stop the vehicle. By doing so, you have transferred the weight of the vehicle too quickly to the front of the vehicle. This weight transfer will prevent the tires from being able to handle the energy of stopping effectively as the front brakes lock up. ABS brakes were designed to help drivers avoid this scenario. Although many people dislike the feel of ABS brakes when demand is placed on them, they fail to understand that when tires are squealing on the road, they have already lost control of their vehicle.

  • Know how your ABS brakes work and practice with them. Again, on low-impact to no-traffic roads, apply your brakes hard to engage the ABS system and see how it stops the vehicle. The brake pedal will pulse and the brakes will produce a growling complaint. The vehicle will feel like it's not stopping effectively, but on the contrary, the vehicle is slowing down more effectively than when the tires are screeching across the road. Never pump the foot brake pedal to deactivate the ABS braking sensation. Steady pressure to the brake pedal---not stomping---will help you slow the vehicle down more effectively.

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