10/16/09 - A quick driving lesson.

Q: When is it appropriate to use the brake pedal?
A: (Simple version) NEVER!
A: (More extended version with an explanation):

Let me be more specific, during every day driving, there is never, and I repeat, NEVER an appropriate time to use the brake when driving on the interstate. (Debris or animal in the road can not be considered a typical driving experience, as this does not happen often).

Let me throw out a few scenarios. First, the way I see it, assuming a three lane interstate, the right lane will typical travel between 5 and 10 miles an hour below the speed limit, the middle lane will be right around the speed limit, and the far left lane will be for those traveling 5-10 above the speed limit. Although this is not always the case, in my world, this is the way it should work.

This means, that if you happen to be merging on to the interstate (speed limit of 65 assumed), you should get up to around 60 miles an hour in an attempt to merge with that lane of traffic. If you brake to get in between cars either traffic was going to slow, or you were moving to fast. Likewise, if the person behind you has to brake, odds are, you were moving too slow.

Now, let's say you are in a hurry and need to get to the far left lane. It is fairly simple to remove your foot from the gas to give you a small gap between you and the car in front of you that you can use to accelerate to a comparable speed as the center lane. There is no need to use the brake to slow down because your car will not maintain that high of speed without the use of the accelerator. Once you get into the middle lane, coast until you are maintaining a good speed and repeat the process to get to the left lane.

If you have to brake in any lane, including the far left lane, something has gone wrong. If you are going more than 10 miles an hour in the fast lane, you are the problem, Since this will not impact cars behind you as you are going to fast for them to be close to you, this can be considered a minor offense. The catch is that you should still give yourself plenty of time to be able to slow down your vehicle by simply not accelerating anymore, resulting in no brake usage. However, if you are going under the recommended speed above in any lane, you need to merge back to the right side until you are moving steadily with traffic. This also comes into play with exiting the interstate. Just remove your foot from the gas and merge at the same time. You should have plenty of room to decelerate and not impact any other drivers.

Exiting the interstate. There is a reason that the stretch of road connecting an interstate and the access road is called and exit ramp. It is used for exiting. This is where you should apply the brake to decelerate to the recommended safe speed for that exit. You should not begin applying your brakes on the interstate as this will impact all drivers behind you that are attempting to maintain proper speeds.

What happens when one driver applies their brakes? Bad things...bad things. The common response to seeing brake lights is to apply your own brakes. This begins a chain reaction that eventually will result in what most commuters know as a traffic jam.

Speed traps. I have written about this before and have on numerous occassions been guilty of this, but as long as you are going a reasonable speed, and are helping to maintain a constant flow of traffic, that speed trap is not going to have any impact on you whatsoever. What gets under my skin the most is when the constant flow of traffic is 5-10 under the speed limit (for reasons unknown to me) and every car in front me starts applying their brakes as they pass the police officer. News Flash people, they had the radar on you long before you got close to them, braking as you pass is not preventing a ticket.

The same is true for rubber neckers. I swear, people act like they've never seen a wreck. Why do people want to stare at a wreck anyways? Do they think they are going to see a dead body or a dismembered figure, how creepy is that? Do they just want to see crushed vehicles, then go to a salvage yard, you get better views and you aren't causing a traffic issue? Or my favorite, "I wanted to make sure it wasn't someone I knew". What were you going to do if you did know them? Stop and assist the EMTs? Try to fix the engine block sitting on the side of the road? Or were you going to fix the body damage right then and there? No, you wanted to know if you knew someone in a wreck so you could tell all your other friends that you saw it. Listen people, just drive...seriously, the people who need to look at the wreck are going to be there, you just need to make sure you don't cause another one. (this might have made a good post all on it's own, oh well).

I think that ends today's driving lesson. For those wondering, yes this impacted me just this morning as there were several times that with no other traffic but myself and another car or two, brakes would be applied. Cruising at or around the speed limit, no cops, no wrecks, no traffic, not even an attempt to exit and in front of me, I see brake lights.


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