Thursday February 13 2014

When the brakes fail, what do you do?

Should your brakes  fail, experts advise us not

Should your brakes fail, experts advise us not to panic but be focused as we look for soft targets. FILE PHOTO  

Jude: What you do when your brakes fail?

Mustafa: That is one thing one doesn’t want to even think about. Maybe some of the newer cars have safety mechanisms that can mitigate some of these things. But the cars that most of us drive (run of the mill), it is a bad thing. What do you do, apart from screaming?

Jude: Does screaming help?

Paul: In fact it is always advisable to remain calm.

Mustafa: It is easier said than done.

Jude: If you panic, you end up ramming into other cars.

Paul: I think being calm comes with practice or having talked about it, which is what we are doing now. You said a while ago that you don’t want to think about it but maybe thinking about it can prepare you in an unlikely event that it happens.

Mustafa: There have been scenarios when I am absent-minded and just in case I am going to hit the car in front of me I instinctively think about swerving the car to the other side. Personally, I am thinking of the clearest target, so in case my brakes fail that is what I would do. But that depends on the speed.

Jude: Something happened to me yesterday. I was rushing to work and realised I was just about to hit the bumper of the car in front of me, but good enough for me, I hit the brakes hard and in time and didn’t hit his bumper. Good enough he kept on increasing his speed, so this prevented me from hitting, not that I was intending to anyway.

Mustafa: I think this begs the question what would you have done in case he stopped? Or you can put it the other way what if your brakes had failed at that time?

Paul: I think your situation is more of error in judgment which requires braking in time but we are talking about mechanical brake failure. You step on the brakes and they don’t help you at all, they just fall flat with no response. The car keeps going.

Jude: I think because none of us has ever experienced this, it is a bit weird thinking about it, but still we need to prepare for the worst.

Paul: God forbid, in the unlikely event that it happens, remain calm and observe the traffic around you, in front, on the sides and behind. In the event that you cannot bring this vehicle to a stop, look at where to hit. It is important to try and pump the brakes maybe because the brake hose has failed try to rebuild this pressure manually. If it fails to stop try to shift down which is easier with a manual car.

Jude: You look for soft targets.

Mustafa: You can shift down with an automatic only that you may mess up the gearbox. From D move to three.

Paul: You may not have time to shift through all gears, chances are that you are going to damage the gearbox so try as fast as possible to downshift to drive one. At this moment, it is more important to save your life and maybe the car.

Mustafa: Some car companies design their transmissions in such a way that you can only shift to one at only certain speeds if you are at 80kph you may not downshift to one.

Paul: But the Mercedes has something modern called brake assist, it automatically down shifts the transmission when it gets a signal from the assisting system when you hit the brake you actuate the brake lights to turn red and warn the driver behind you, another signal goes to the transmission control unit and instructs it to downshift which gives you the equivalent of engine braking.

Jude: Paul, brake assist is a very recent feature and may not be available in most cars.

Paul: Brake assist exists in most of the modern cars and the Mercedes Benz cars from around 2001. But even when the brake fluid delivery system has collapsed, at least the gears will downshift after getting the signal. But what if it is an ordinary car like yours and mine , what do you do?

Jude: You use a hand brake.

Paul: No you don’t. If you pull the handbrake and you are doing 80kph, you going to spin the car around.

Mustafa: You will be like a rally driver of sorts, you will swing and twist the car.

Paul: The safest thing to do as you pump the brakes is to look for safe spots. Is there a bush, a wall, short trees, a rough surface, sandy or muddy terrain that can bring the car to a stop?

Mustafa: There is a German car programme I watched on TV. They discussed a situation about what to do say when your driver loses consciousness. But among the things they talked about is what Jude is saying-using the hand brake but you don’t do it in a fast way or pull it all the way. The only challenge nowadays is that with some handbrakes you use the foot and other, buttons.

Jude: If it is the ordinary “full up” types, you do it gradually and subtly.

Paul: There is something controversial that some experts advise. If the car ahead of you is moving at about the same speed as yours, you continue driving towards it, aim straight and ram into it until yours stops, or he will instinctively stop, and when he stops, he helps you stop as well.

Mustafa: You present a very fundamental issue because that is the least of all evils, the other option would be ramming into a wall. But that option of hitting the guy head of you is okay if he is not in a Mercedes S-Class, that will be another problem altogether!

Jude: You are all talking about slopes or assuming the car is at a flat surface now what if brake failure exists when you are going uphill.

Mustafa: That is the easiest, if the car is coasting it will automatically decelerate, you turn it as it goes down.

Paul: By the way, it is good you talk about deceleration. One of the things you should never do when brake failure happens is to switch off the engine. You cut power off any potential help that can only happen when the engine is running, you cut off the steering system. If you are driving a manual car don’t throw the car into neutral, look for the lowest gear at least to try and get assistance from the transmission.

Jude: Just imagine the Jinja road Lugogo stretch just outside the outdoor stadium towards Shoprite and there so many cars, what do you do if your brakes fail in such a busy place?

Paul: Don’t jump out of the car!

Jude: Do you go the other side of Kyadondo rugby grounds for those cars to help you stop or you aim for the drainage tunnel or ram into the stadium wall on your left? Do you turn on the double indicators and scream? By the way people have hit that wall before.

Paul: Maybe they were in a similar situation but just stay calm, stay focused and if possible stay in line with the vehicle ahead of you.

Jude: Any advice to the readers out there?

Mustafa: If you are not wearing a seat belt, wear one. Always prepare for the worst scenario. We should always have an element of defensive driving, always thinking for the worst.