Anti-lock brakes

Ask The Traffic School Instructor: Anti-lock Brakes

Question: What’s the difference between anti-lock brakes and regular brakes?

Answer: Anti-lock brakes or ABS is a braking system that helps in keeping control of your vehicle when the brakes are applied on slippery road surfaces. If you aren’t certain whether you have ABS or not, check your owner’s manual or consult the dealer.

With standard brakes, if you try to stop too quickly on a slippery road surface, your brakes may lock up and send your vehicle into a skid over which you have little or no control. ABS systems use a computer to determine how fast the wheels are turning and, if it detects one wheel spinning faster or slower than the others, it adjusts the brake pressure accordingly. The computer can read and make adjustments approximately 15 times per second allowing the vehicle to slow evenly and the driver to steer safely.

If your vehicle has standard brakes and you need to stop quickly on a slick road, instead of applying full pressure to the brakes, you should pump your brakes in order to maintain control. If you feel the vehicle start to skid, you should release the brakes momentarily until you’re sure you have full control before applying the brakes again. Obviously, this will take longer to slow the vehicle and that’s another reason why keeping a safe following distance between you and the vehicle ahead is so important. When the road surface is slippery, double your normal following distance.

With ABS brakes, you should apply full pressure to the brakes. As the computer works to lock and unlock the brakes, you’ll feel a fluttering or vibration in the brake pedal. That fluttering is normal and you should continue to apply full pressure to the brakes. Often, drivers who aren’t familiar with the operation of anti-lock brakes will panic and take their foot off the brake when they feel that fluttering sensation. Taking your foot off of or trying to pump ABS brakes, basically tells the computer that you’re taking control and the system will stop operating.

One thing to remember is that ABS systems don’t stop your car any faster, they only help you maintain control and steer while you’re braking. Having anti-lock brakes isn’t an excuse to shorten your following distance or to drive faster than road conditions allow.