Braking - Car Braking Technique (2023)

As a learner driver, you’re likely to be a little heavy footed on the brake pedal initially. This is perfectly normal and takes practice to become proficient.

There’s a little more to braking than simply pressing the pedal. there are various braking techniques, but just as important as learning technique, the ability to predict situations ahead is essential to a lifetime of safe driving.

Predicting the road ahead is calledanticipation and planning and a good driver who effectively uses anticipation and planning whilst driving, often uses the brakes less frequently and rarely uses the brakes heavily, except under an emergency situation.

Braking ability

Almost anyone can stomp on the brake pedal, but doing this in every day driving will soon cause an accident.

Your level of braking ability is defined by two main skill sets:

  • Braking technique – how you apply pressure to the brake pedal.
  • Observation, anticipation and planning – what you see around you, what you anticipate is going to happen and planning for that situation before you get there.

If you’re just starting out learning to drive, you won’t be able to do much in terms of observation, anticipation and planning. In fact, you don’t want to, your driving instructor will do that on your behalf. Instead, you’ll want to initially concentrate on getting the feel of the cars brakes and gaining braking technique skills. In order to that, it’s beneficial to gain a basic understanding on how car brakes work.

Braking - Car Braking Technique (1)

How car brakes work

Car brakes principally work the same as the brakes on a push bike. Both push bike and car brakes use pads and both have discs, although for most push bikes, the ‘disc’ is actually the rim of the wheels.

Looking at the diagram of the rotating wheel, we can see the brake pads are not in contact with the brake disc.Where the brake pedal has been pressed on the stationary wheel diagram, the pads have been pushed by hydraulics against the brake disc.

Just like on a push bike, the friction against the pads and discs (or wheel rims) turns all that kinetic energy (forward motion of the car) into heat. The same principle applies however, it’s the friction that stops the car or push bike. The reason why we’re comparing it to a push bike is because most of us have used one before we learn to drive. Not only is the way in which they mechanically stop in principle that same, the way in which you stop is also the same.

Braking techniques

When you want to brake on a push bike, it’s unlikely you’ll just squeeze the brake level as hard as possible else you’ll skid or even go over the handle bars. You brake gently, alternating the pressure until you gently come to a stop. The same applies to the brakes and brake pedal on the car. It’s called progressive braking.

Progressive braking

What is progressive braking?
Progressive braking is essentially variable braking instead of constant braking. It should start slight, increase with pressure and finish light. Progressive braking is a safe driving technique, which

  • allows for other drivers to react to your actions
  • prevents locked wheels
  • prevents the car from skidding
  • reduces wear on the brakes, tyres, suspension and other mechanical parts
  • saves on fuel
  • is more comfortable for your passengers

When you have mastered progressive braking, you will have stopped where you intended on stopping, the entire braking process will be smooth and when you come to a stop, it there will be no aggressive jolt at the end. Progressive braking doesn’t necessarily mean slowly, progressive braking is even carried out in an emergency stop situation.The point is that it’s done progressively and not to simply stomp on the brakes.

To achieve this, start on a flat or slightly downhill gradient, and on a quiet, straight road. Don’t set yourself a target of where you need to stop initially, just get the feel of the brakes. To understand and master the progressive braking technique, you’ll need to do it in stages.

Before braking however, ensure you are covering the brake with your right foot and the covering the clutch with your left foot. This simply means placing your foot onto the pedals in preparation of stopping, but not pressing them. See cover the brake for further information. These stages of progressive braking are:

  1. Feel – as the braking process starts, gently press the pedal to take up any slack between the discs and the brake pads. You will know when this has been achieved as you will feel the brakes slowing the car.
  2. Firm – now still gently, but more firmly apply pressure the to brake pedal. Keep applying pressure and decelerating until you reach the required speed. This middle phase should set the appropriate speed in which you need to negotiate the hazard, this could be a bend in the road for example or stopping for a red light. In this case, we are simply stopping, so gently but firmly apply pressure until between 5 to 10 mph is reached.
  3. Feather – the final stage is to gently begin to ease off the brake pedal so as you will stop in a smooth, controlled action. Gently feather more pressure on the pedal if you are not stopping soon enough. The clutch should be depressed at the feathering stage, around 3 to 4 metres before you intend on stopping to avoid stalling the car. See how to stop stalling the car for further information.
Braking - Car Braking Technique (2)

Try this progressive braking technique enough times until you get a good feel of the brakes and the pedal and until you come to a smooth controlled stop.

The diagram on the right may help to understand what you’re trying to achieve with progressive braking when compared to constant braking.The key is in the middle ‘firm’ part of the braking to gauge the correct amount of deceleration required to achieve a smooth stop at the end, unlike harsh or constant braking which results in an abrupt stop.

Once you’ve reached a reasonable level of proficiency, set yourself a specific target to stop at. This could be behind a parked car or at a junction for example. It’s always beneficial to use reference points to help learner drivers to understand where to stop as it can be difficult to relate where the front of the car is from the driver’s seat.

An example of a suitable reference point for junctions is choose a marker on the car which lines up with junction lines on the road. A clearer explanation can be obtained from the junction lines tutorial. Learner drivers often find themselves stopping too early before a junction. Reference points help to resolve this issue as it provides a visual aid in knowing where to stop.

Braking skills put to the test

An all-round proficient driver will have many skills, most of which complement each other. After all, being proficient at progressive braking isn’t of much use unless you can read the road. Reading the road ahead is your ability to anticipate something happening, so for example down the road you see traffic lights that have been on green for some time. You would anticipate them changing before you reach them. Or a pedestrian crossing on green, but has people waiting, you would anticipate the lights changing before or just as you get there.

After anticipating, planning is required. Is your plan to get there and slam on the brakes if the lights change, or ease off the accelerator, cover the brake and clutch and prepare to either continue through the lights, or to use progressive braking at a certain distance from the lights if they change?Anticipation and planning is one of the more challenging skills to learn. It takes time and practice but is essential to enable all other driving skills to merge. It’s also fairly important if you want to pass the driving test too!

Do I need to learn braking techniques?

All modern cars come fitted with some form of anti-lock brakes as it’s a legal requirement for car manufacturers within the EU to do so. Anti-lock brakes don’t enable you to stop sooner however. They are designed to enable a driver to steer whilst braking in an emergency situation, and therefor to potentially avoid a crash.

Even with the advancements of car brake technology, it’s still essential to learn safe braking techniques to avoid unnecessarily dangerous situations. Good braking techniques are however only useful if the drivers observational and anticipation skills are sufficient. Bad driving habits such as tailgating will also have a detrimental effect on not only other road users, but any braking skills that may have been learnt as it renders them useless.

Car braking tips

Be cautious when braking on a bend in the road. Moving objects naturally tend to want to travel in a straight line (inertia). It requires an unbalanced force to make a moving object change direction (centripetal force).Braking whilst on a bend puts the car off-balance.

The weight of the car shifts to the front whilst braking, which is particularly challenging for front wheel drive cars as it can become difficult to steer and brake simultaneously. As the weight transfers to the front of the vehicle due to braking, the rear tyres now have less grip to the road, due also to cornering, the weight and grip available to the rear tyres is distributed unevenly.This makes the rear of the car want to swing out and overtake the front of the car. This becomes more likely the harder you brake.

Braking and steering is also rather unkind to your front tyres. Tyres only really like to do one thing, go round and in a straight line. Turning whilst steering now puts extra load onto the front tyres, as the car (inertia) is trying to go in a straight line, add braking to that and you really start asking a lot for your front tyres to have to deal with.

Not only does braking on a corner make a car much more unstable, it will wear your front tyres out much quicker – and they certainly aren’t cheap to replace.Instead anticipate the bend ahead, decelerate and use progressive braking to reach the appropriate speed for the bend before you enter it. This becomes particularly important on wet or icy roads.

Think ahead

Always consider:

  • weather conditions
  • your speed of travel
  • condition of road. Is it wet, muddy, icy, snow
  • the road camber can influence how your car reacts to braking
  • whether the road has a gradient
  • visibility
  • condition of your vehicle, tyres and tyre pressures
  • the reaction time it takes to respond to an incident

Related Tutorials

  • Anti-lock Brakes (ABS)
  • Engine Braking
  • Cover the brake technique


Braking - Car Braking Technique? ›

Gradually apply more pressure until you feel resistance from the brakes engaging and your car begins to slow. Continue applying gentle pressure to slow or stop the car as needed. Just before completing a stop, ease off the brake pedal slightly to prevent your car from bouncing back too hard.

What is the proper technique for braking a car? ›

Gradually apply more pressure until you feel resistance from the brakes engaging and your car begins to slow. Continue applying gentle pressure to slow or stop the car as needed. Just before completing a stop, ease off the brake pedal slightly to prevent your car from bouncing back too hard.

What is the proper braking technique when driving a vehicle with ABS CDL? ›

Maintain firm and continuous pressure on the brake while steering. If your vehicle is equipped with just rear-wheel anti-lock brakes, however, the front wheels can still lock up. If that happens, ease up on the brake pedal slightly to allow the front wheels to roll again so you can steer. allow enough distance to stop.

What braking technique is for maximum braking just short of lock up? ›

Threshold braking – Level of braking in which the driver applies the brake pressure to a point just short of locking up the brakes, resulting in maximum braking capability.

What is the most efficient braking technique? ›

Braking without ABS

In an emergency stopping situation, threshold braking technique is the best practice in a vehicle that is not equipped with ABS. Done properly, threshold braking should bring you to a reasonably quick & controlled stop in your own lane, even in slippery conditions.

What braking technique is used for ABS? ›

ABS is an automated system that uses the principles of threshold braking and cadence braking, techniques which were once practiced by skillful drivers before ABS was widespread. ABS operates at a much faster rate and more effectively than most drivers could manage.

What are the 3 S's of ABS braking? ›

People often talk about the 3 S's of ABS: Stomp – Stay – Steer. Stomp on the brake, Stay on the brake and Steer normally. Modern ABS utilizes a computer to receive information from sensors and control the anti-lock brakes.

What is the proper method of braking on long downhill grades CDL? ›

On long downhill grades, experts recommend using a low gear and light, steady pedal pressure instead of on-again, off-again braking.

What is the braking method that slows the vehicle down as quickly as possible without locking the brakes? ›

Threshold braking is the art of slowing down in the quickest possible way by maintaining brake force at the optimum level. It's tricky and requires a lot of practise in a familiar car before you'll be able to do it reliably, but braking late before a corner is one of the easiest methods of getting decent track times.

Which braking method will give you maximum control? ›

During hard braking, vehicles with ABS remain stable. The brakes do not lock up, which means the driver has more steering control. How do you use ABS? Press the brake firmly and do not release until the vehicle has stopped.

What is the maximum braking driving? ›

Many safety experts use 15 ft/sec2 (0.47 g's) as the maximum deceleration that is safe for the average driver to maintain control, good to excellent tires, dry surface. A reasonably skilled driver can stop at 20 ft/sec2 (0.62 g's).

What is the most common braking style? ›

The friction from the brake pads on the rotor slows the spinning and brings your car to a stop. Disc brakes became the preferred braking system because they are easier to clean than drum brakes, manage heat better, generate more stopping power, and provide better handling in wet conditions.

Which brake controls 70% of the braking power? ›

Braking power on the front and rear wheel

The front wheel brake is the strongest and is responsible for the majority of the actual stopping. The front wheel brake gives 70% of the total braking power and the rear wheel brake has 30%.

What is the best braking technique to use in maintaining a safe speed when driving on a downgrade? ›

Many drivers make the mistake of applying the brakes to reach the legal speed. Instead, they should use an alternating technique of braking down, building up, then braking down again. According to the CDL manual, brakes should be applied just hard enough to noticeably slow down.

What is the 3 second rule for braking? ›

It takes about 1 and 1/2 seconds to notice a potential risk in front of you, and another 1 and 1/2 seconds to react, hit the brakes, and slow down. So you want to give yourself at least 3 seconds between the car in front of you and your vehicle.

What are the 3 stages of braking? ›

Advanced drivers know these phases as Feel – Firm – Feather.
  • Feel in. At the beginning of braking apply the brake pedal just enough to take up the 'slack' and get the brake pads into contact with the discs.
  • Firm on. Use this middle stage to brush off all the unwanted speed. ...
  • Feather off.

Is it better to brake quickly or slowly? ›

It's a mistake to brake too hard while going at fast speeds, as it causes your brakes to wear down. Eventually, it becomes harder to have a controlled stop. Gradually braking while driving is always the best option if you can help it. Less damage will occur to the brakes.

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