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Anti-lock brakes — know how to use them

September 15, 2012
By DAVE WERNER ( , Franklin County Traffic Safety Board

I was recently involved in a traffic safety discussion about the proper use of anti-lock brakes (ABS), now standard equipment on most, if not all cars. We expected younger drivers would know all about ABS and how to properly use anti-lock brakes on vehicles that were so equipped. However, we asked several persons, and we found out that there still remains confusion about ABS and what all drivers should know.

The primary benefit of ABS is to help the driver maintain control of his vehicle and avoid collisions by being able to steer the vehicle. With ABS, sensors at each wheel, and a computer, detect when a wheel lockup is eminent. The system automatically adjusts the pressure in your vehicle's brake lines, maintaining maximum brake performance just short of locking up the wheels. The effect is similar to the old method of "pumping" the brakes, but the computer-controlled ABS adjusts the pressure much faster, more accurately, and can control the wheels individually.

So, here's what drivers need to know about ABS and how to properly use them. Just remember the three safety S's to help remind you what to do when faced with an emergency stop situation:

-STOMP - Depress the brake pedal firmly.

-STAY - Keep your foot hard on the brake pedal; do NOT pump the brakes.

-STEER - Steer where you want to go.

The most important benefit of ABS is that you have the ability to steer - exactly what you DON'T have if your wheels lock up. ABS will not stop your vehicle on slippery roads the same as they will on bare roads - you can't drive on slippery roads like you do on dry roads. But ABS will give you the best possible ability to stop under all conditions PLUS the ability to steer in the direction you want the vehicle to go. That is the benefit of ABS.

As winter driving approaches, we suggest you take the earliest opportunity to go to a relatively empty snow-covered parking lot and try stopping and steering by using the "stomp, stay, steer" method described in this article. This will give you confidence should you find yourself in a position to need a sudden stop on under slippery conditions. You will also learn that the noises and vibrations associated with ABS are normal and expected.


For more articles on traffic law and safety, go to the traffic safety board's website at and click on "Traffic Safety Board" under departments; then look for "Did You Know" articles under "services."



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