Are Anti-Lock Brakes Unsafe?

September 24, 2010

I don't like anti-lock brakes. I cannot stop as quickly on snow as I would stop if I pumped the old style brakes. Your article about "Experienced Drivers" making "Deadly Mistakes" only reinforced my feeling of this so-called "safety feature". I wish manufacturers would rid us of ABS, and go back to standard brakes. Why don't write up an article arguing against anti-lock brakes?

I won't argue against ABS because I disagree with you.

Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are not "bad". ABS provides the ability to steer my car, even on a slick winter pavement. Yes, I'd prefer to stop in a shorter distance under winter conditions; however, I'd rather be more careful about leaving space between myself and a car in front of me when rain, gravel or snow makes the roadway unstable. But not at the cost of being unable to do something uncanny during the winter, namely being able to steer my car away from danger, even while braking on a slick wintery surface.

I also like how ABS actually shortens up stopping distances on dry pavement.

Discussing the reasons you may detest ABS is like discussing the weather. Opinions and arguments won't change the fact that millions of cars are on the road with ABS, driven by people who are usually clueless about how to benefit from ABS when an emergency stopping situation arises out of nowhere.

I already made the point in the article that too many very experienced drivers are clueless about how to use their ABS in emergency stopping situations. Ignorance is not an insult, but a condition. It causes serious accidents that could have been avoided including the death of a very experienced police officer who died from ignorance and inexperience with ABS.

This follow up article emphasizes the incredible risks that even a veteran police lieutenant, unfamiliar and unprepared to use ABS, can face in an instant. Remember, no one could believe that the officer could have been killed because of his inexperience. Then it became the consensus opinion that the unsettling noise ABS generates, and the jolting sensations ABS generates against the foot on the brake pedal, probably disoriented him long enough for his car to run off the road, into some trees.

Familiarity with the ABS is the only way to be able to prevent a similar tragedy happening to any other experienced driver. That officer's death is a warning to anyone who presumes to understand ABS without any actual practice on winter-glazed pavement.

Therefore one must practice winter weather hard-braking in order to:

1. Recognize the harsh sounds as normal and brake pedal pulsations as a good thing.

2. Know that holding the steering wheel straight means you are going to go straight because ABS gives you the ability to steer away from objects you might otherwise crash into.

All it requires of anyone is take out one's ABS equipped vehicle, make sure you have four good tires on it, and do some practice runs in a vacant parking lot when winter makes the surface slick. From there:

1. Accelerate, then stop hard, repeating the exercise and gradually increasing your speed as you feel comfortable doing so.

2. Press harder on the brake the faster you drive.

3. After you are comfortable building up speed and hitting the brakes, try steering, as if you are avoiding impact, to the right, then to the left, and eventually try making an "S" curve.

Listing the pros and cons of ABS might help. But I know that anyone, even you (someone who "detests" ABS brakes, but still drives an ABS equipped vehicle) will do yourself good if you:

• Know that whatever harsh sounds and startling brake pedal pulsations you may experience in an emergency stop experiment are normal, indicating your ABS is engaged.

• Avoid the kind of knee-jerk reaction, or stunned inaction, that killed the police officer I referenced in the other article you already read.

• Practice emergency stopping, especially in winter, with good tires, so you can respond with reason and intelligence should you face a true crises.

• Take more control of the outcome of a crises because ABS may give you control as to whether you steer straight, or steer away or around an object, all while holding down your brake pedal, even if you are driving on the slickest winter pavement.

Humans perform few, if any skills well without practice. Therefore several practice sessions each winter enhances your odds of doing well should you face a "slam on the brakes" emergency.


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