Why use the brakes? They only slow you down! Of course I’m kidding when I say that. Using the brakes is an everyday occurrence whether you’re driving on the race track, the street, or even on your bicycle. Even though we know that pressing the brake pedal slows you down, there are nuances to be learned and understood in order to become a better driver.

Today we’ll look at how drivers can be safer, whether the cars have ABS or not. Technically speaking, ABS stands for Anti-lock Braking System. Here at Fast Lane we also like to say that it means Always Be Steering. You could also think about it as the Ability to Brake and Steer. That’s critical knowledge for driving everyday on the freeway or any other roads. ABS is a great technology that is designed to keep the front and rear wheels from “locking up” under heavy, quick or unloaded braking maneuvers. If you were to slam on the brakes, chances are that your brakes would lock up, meaning that your tires are no longer rotating; instead they are skidding on the road. Once your tire starts skidding, steering control is gone. It doesn’t matter which way you turn the steering wheel, the car will continue skidding in the same direction that it was going. Tires need to rotate to make the car change direction and that’s where ABS comes in. Keep in mind that ABS may not necessarily stop the car in a shorter distance (more on that next time); however, it gives you the ability to brake and steer. Here’s how: The vehicle has wheel speed sensors. Under heavy braking in a lock-up situation, the computer gets a signal telling it that the brakes are locked. At that point, the computer system automatically reduces brake pressure to allow that wheel to rotate. The computer also knows that you’re still mashing the brake pedal so it re-applies brake pressure. Typically at this point the lock-up returns. As soon as the system recognizes that the wheels aren’t turning, it reduces brake pressure again. This action can typically take place more than 20 times per second! That’s faster than a professional race car driver can do it. Furthermore, the system has the ability to modulate brake pressure with one wheel at a time – something that a professional driver could never do. Since 2008 all cars sold in America have been equipped with ABS. The systems have also become much more effective and have reduced the amount of noise and pedal push back (vibration) of earlier systems.

The beauty of ABS is that on slippery or uneven road conditions it can help the driver avoid danger. However the laws of physics still apply. Also, keep in mind that since the system is locking/un-locking, the time that it’s locked, you’re still sliding forward. On a dry high-grip surface this “sideways stair step” is minimized. Think lock – go straight, un-lock – turn. If you’re driving on wet or sandy roads, this sideways stair step turning pattern is amplified – meaning that when you turn the wheel under an ABS condition, the car will not go where it normally would in a dry non-ABS situation. You’ll have to turn the steering wheel more to help it trace the arc of turning you’d like. Always keep in mind what your car is capable of doing in varying road conditions. By the way, if your vehicle isn’t equipped with ABS, you’ll have to manually pump the brakes if they lock-up. It’s definitely a skill worth acquiring as otherwise you may find yourself on the wrong end of a crash. Bottom line is that when you come to Fast Lane Racing School, you’ll learn your car’s ABS limits in a safe and effective setting.


Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason