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British teaching on stopping at stop light

Regarding Kate’s question – British driving teaching is quite dogmatic. When stopping at a stop light one must change down through the gears, then put the “hand brake” on, then put the gearbox in neutral and take the foot off the clutch. Change to neutral before putting the hand brake on is grounds for failing the driving test. Using the foot brake isn’t sufficient. Lawyers are probably responsible because if you were hit from behind while stopped at a light and you shunted the guy in front, and your hand brake wasn’t on then you are responsible for the damage to his car even though you did nothing wrong! Maybe Kate has mentally substituted foot on the clutch in first gear with the “hand brake” which is missing from her American car which has a “park brake”.

You could be standing on the brake pedal and still get hit hard enough from behind to push you across any intersection on earth. Don’t for one second expect the hand brake to keep a car in position when hit from behind.

Kate’s summary of her father’s instructions reminded me of my father’s: “always be in gear at the stop light. No excuses.” In 1959, when i learned to drive, it was illegal to be on the roadway/street without being in gear – whether “coasting” or stopped – unless the engine was off, as while waiting for a long, slow freight train. Don’t know if that law has changed in the U.S., or in any state, but i still stay in gear.

OldSchool, you’re absolutely correct. In 1961, i was at a stop sign, waiting for a teenager to cross to go into school. She started to wave thanx, then leaped backwards onto the sidewalk. I glanced into the mirror and stood on both the emergency brake and the regular brake as another car plowed into my trunk, then backed up and sped away. I was shoved across the intersection, into a parked car, and that car went into the car in front of it. My car was totaled, but i don’t think the car i hit was. When you’re going to be hit from the rear, neither being in gear nor standing on the brakes helps. Nor does being parked.

One interesting thing I thought while listening to this is another safety issue: If it is possible to realize you’re about to be rear-ended by someone drunk, asleep or otherwise still going cruising speed, and you are not the first car in line it is actually best to roll up into the car in front of you and keep the brake off. This way, upon impact you will take one jolt from the momentum transferring from the moving car into the single mass that is your and the car in front. In fact, if your lucky the car(s) in front for some reason won’t have their brakes on (maybe the light just turned green) and the momentum will transfer through your car without a terrible hit on your body, but that’s a best-case scenarios that’s almost impossible.
If however, you stayed in place and held the brake down, you would receive a jolt from the moving car hitting the much smaller mass of just your car, and another and opposite jolt from your car hitting the car in front.

You might want to ask an insurance agent or adjuster about this idea. Based on what I know about which car owner’s insurance pays for what damage, this sounds like a bad idea to me.

If you do get rear ended at a red light, and your car gets pushed into the car in front of you, your insurance will usually be billed for the damage to the car in front of you. This is based on the idea that you should not have been so close to the car in front of you, but it doesn’t necessarily apply to all situations. For example, if you are hit at full speed by a truck, your car would damage the car in front of you even if you left a reasonable amount of space. However, in most cases, the offending driver has a chance to hit his brakes before he rear-ends you. If you see him coming and pull closer to the car in front of you, you just caused an additional collision that may not have happened if you had maintained the proper distance.

I suggest you rethink this advice of yours. Cars don’t behave like those swinging metal balls on the desktop toys that demonstrate the principle you are referencing. Cars have crumple zones and are not as solid as those little metal balls.

I think you will find that in most European countries, they take driving more seriously as a skill than the average American. I don’t think lawyers are to blame for the European dedication to driving skill. I think their approach simply makes common sense. It saves lives and lowers insurance costs.

Well, maybe I did take it too far my talking about momentum transfer, but I still say you would only get the impact from the rear end and not a subsequent head into another car. And I think this may only apply to bigger vehicles (big rigs, dump trucks, etc) because a car wouldn’t push you into the car in front THAT fast.

Am I Missing Something, Here? Do British Cars Have “Handbrakes” That Brake All 4 Wheels?
Are they mechanical?

Holding one’s foot on the pedal of a 4-wheel hydraulic brake system seems “sufficient”, unless one considers that impact from an collision may loosen the foot’s pressure on the pedal.

Parking brakes (usually mechanical) brake just 2 (usually rear wheels which are less powerful than front brakes) wheels and don’t always lock them up.

I’m not sure I’m understanding. Please fill me in. What am I missing? Are we mixing archaic cars/driving with current cars/driving?

Thanks, CSA

I passed my driving test in the UK in February of this year, and I was taught to wait at lights in gear with the clutch down and handbrake on. The reason given wasn’t safety though - it was more about being ready to move promptly when the lights change, and thus minimize unnecessary congestion. We’d take it out of gear and release the clutch if a longer wait was anticipated, though.

It’d be interesting to know just how bad this is supposed to be for the clutch - and whether it’s one of those things that would crucify an older car but which a modern car would take in its stride?

British driving teaching is considerably less dogmatic than it used to be, incidentially - it’s now considered perfectly acceptable change directly from fifth gear to second, using predominantly the foot brake rather than engine-braking to slow down.