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The Emergency Stop

An emergency stop is something that you hope you’ll never have to do. However, that wasn’t the case for one Homers Driving School Instructors who was forced to execute a safe emergency stop as a school child ran out in front of their car whilst the instructor was driving between lessons (see the emergency stop in action from the on-board video capture here).

Fortunately, the child escaped serious injury, but the reality is that on our busy and unpredictable roads you are no doubt going to have to perform an emergency stop (or a few) when you’re a driver.  Hopefully it will turn out that your emergency stop was just precautionary rather than a real emergency.  Either way you must learn to bring the car to a stop quickly and safely.

Performing a Safe Emergency Stop

There are three main elements to completing a safe emergency stop that you will need to be aware of when learning to drive.

A Quick Reaction Time

Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to have the reactions of Superman but obviously the quicker you take your foot off the accelerator pedal and on to the brake the better.  What will help you to do this as fast as possible is you being attentive to the road and keeping to safe distances.

Did you know that when driving at 30 miles an hour your stopping distance is about six car lengths.  It’s obvious that the faster you are travelling the longer it will take for your car to stop, so you must take into account your speed and the road conditions when judging your distance from the car in front.

If the road is gravelly, wet or icy, safe stopping distances can be up to ten times the norm or even more. The reality of this will be evident when you drive on an icy road for the first time.  It can be a scary experience to have your foot pressed fully on the brake and it have no apparent effect.

Being familiar with your car and braking system before finding yourself in this situation will help you to put confidence in your car in a panic situation.

Knowing How to Brake

Your car likely has ABS.  This stands for anti-lock braking systems.

Without ABS when your brakes lock up on wet and slippery roads or during a panic stop, you can lose steering control and your vehicle can spin.

Without ABS you will be taught to ‘pump’ the brake before applying complete pressure to try to avoid wheel-lock, to keep control of the car and bring it to a quick and safe stop.

ABS works along with the regular brakes on your vehicle to ‘pump’ the brakes for you in a controlled way.  It allows you as the driver to maintain directional stability and control over steering.

It is important to familiarise yourself with the ABS fitted in your car.  You can look in your car manual for specific information and it is a good idea to test out the brakes of any car that you are driving for the first time in a safe environment to see how the braking feels.

Experiencing ABS working for the first time can feel very strange.  In many vehicles drivers feel a rapid pulsation of the brake pedal – almost as if the brakes are pushing back. The valves in the ABS may make a noise that sounds like grinding or buzzing. You may have an ABS warning light on your dashboard illuminated.

This all indicates that the ABS is working.  It is important NOT to take your foot off the brake pedal when you hear noise or feel pulsations, but continue to apply firm pressure to the brake pedal until the car comes to a complete stop.

It is for this reason that emergency stops are included in your driving lessons and possibly in your driving test too.  Not for the sole purpose of being able to stop quickly if needed to in your lessons but so that you learn about and experience how the car reacts and how it feels to drive in different situations.

Good Observation

After performing an emergency stop good observation before pulling away again is essential. If you feel a little shaken up maybe take a moment to settle yourself first – Just check that you or others are not in any danger.

In contrast to when you pull out of a safe parking space, after performing an emergency stop your car might be in the middle of the road or in an unusual position.

Take extra care with your observation.  You will need to check ALL AROUND your car for hazards before pulling away; as well as your usual checks such as the car not being in gear etc.

The most important thing is to keep you and other road users safe.  After avoiding one collision the last thing you want to do is to cause another.

For more tips and details on safer driving, visit our syllabus page for relevant topics.

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