Traffic Tips: Breaking Bad Braking Habits (aka Excel at Accelerating)

An open letter… Dear driver who applies your brakes unexpectedly on a highway/freeway,

We (the other drivers behind you) believe you have little knowledge of the dramatic slowdown you are leaving behind your tailpipe. Yes, the traffic “ripple” effect we’re experiencing is causing major delays during rush hours and we don’t believe you know about it. Here’s the situation:

Braking aggressively at high speeds causes a chain reaction with following vehicles. Thus, a hard slowdown at high speeds can affect other cars behind you more than you might think. Here’s a video that illustrates how cars react when only one car brakes too quickly. Pay attention to the white sedan (2 cars in front of the bright orange car) at the 8-second mark. The car decelerates and then accelerates quickly, leaving a large gap in-front and behind that car. Each car then tries to “close the gap” by speeding up. 10 seconds later only half of the cars are moving, and a few seconds more, many are at a complete standstill.

What’s the solution? While you will always need to slow down to avoid a potential collision, by maintaining a little extra distance from the car ahead of you, you will have more control to slow down safely without impacting the speeds of others (and the flow of traffic for your fellow road warriors). Keep 1 car-length distance in front of you for every 10 miles per hour you are going (50 mph = 5 car lengths). If you need to slow down, do so and you’ll appreciate the extra planning. When you begin to accelerate again, maintain your safety cushion. If you accelerate too aggressively the driver behind you will follow your lead, shortening the gap again. Then when it’s time to brake …you see the problem.

Our advice: Just pretend your brother, sister, wife or husband is a mile behind you. Would you want them to be stuck in traffic for an extra 20 minutes because you applied your brake too aggressively? If you don’t, try leaving more space in front of your car and hit the brakes at a planned speed. The more you know!

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