Most people (including myself) have very little knowledge of how anti-lock brakes actually work. I say “including myself” here, because most people my age were driving in the days prior to anti-lock brakes in the car. My first car with anti-lock brakes was a 1989 Volvo wagon (I know…yuppie mom…luggage rack and the whole shebang). I remember the first experience I had with the anti-lock brakes. I was backing out of my driveway, which was on a steep incline. My neighbor had parked his truck in front of his house across the street (he never parks there). I was backing down the driveway, just happened to look in my rearview mirror and there was his truck! I slammed on the brakes and just missed his truck by about 3 inches (sigh of relief). Then my brakes started to hammer and vibrate like mad. Next thing you know, bam…bam…I backed right into his truck. I do know that they are a truly an amazing safety feature. But my insurance went up that day. Darned anti-lock brakes! Well, at least now I know how they work.

The anti-lock braking system, although it’s only been in cars since the 70’s, was developed for aircraft use in 1929 by the French.  So there are two great things from the French. Anti-lock brakes and Inspector Clouseau.  Prior to the system being introduced to the automobile industry, in the past, when you’d slam on your brakes, your wheels would lock up and you’d likely skid. People would pump their brakes so they wouldn’t skid. Now, anti-lock brakes do it for you. It’s a safety system that allows the wheels to continue to rotate (rather than locking up like in the past), but they rotate at intervals, so you don’t create a skid. Giving you better traction, stopping distance, and allowing you to steer while braking (i.e. better steering control). If you think about it, having the ABS take care of the brake part, while you’re taking care of the steering part to avoid a collision is almost like having a co-pilot. This way, your mind can be concentrating on one thing, rather than two things at once in a dangerous situation. ABS works with your regular braking system by automatically pumping them. In vehicles not equipped with ABS, the driver has to manually pump the brakes to prevent wheel lockup. In vehicles equipped with ABS, your foot should remain firmly planted on the brake pedal, while ABS pumps the brakes for you so you can concentrate on steering to safety.  This is where some people get into trouble. They don’t realize that you don’t have to pump the brakes!

If you would like to know the effectiveness of ABS systems, in 2003, an Australian study found that ABS reduced the risk of multiple vehicle crashes by 18 percent and reduced the risk of run-off-road crashes by 35 percent. But remember, they only work if you work them properly. Apply steady pressure and hold down the brake. Don’t pump them! With all of the current safety featured in cars, people take for granted that these features will save their life in a crash. Not if you don’t know how they work and use them properly. Some people take more risks than they normally would have prior to ABS brakes and air bags.

Read your manual. Know how your anti-lock brake system works.  Shouldn’t there be a fine for not reading your manual?  Hmm…great idea for next week’s blog.

Until next week…drive safe.
Daun Thompson