I’m pretty good at taking tests. The problem is, with some tests that you take, success is not attained by giving the logically correct answer but rather by regurgitating the answer the test giver wants. I forget that sometimes. When the Michigan Secretary of State’s office told me that I needed to take a written test to continue to have the privilege of driving, on one question I forgot the proper test taking strategy was to determine what some bureaucrat in Lansing wanted me to think. Instead I just read the question, parsed its logic, and gave the same answer that I’ve given my now-adult children concerning the same driving situation. Wait. That’s a fib. I didn’t just read the question, parse etc. The question and possible answers intrigued me enough that I jotted them down on an envelope I had with me. They were unclear enough that I wanted to run them by the other TTAC writers and the Best and Brightest to get your opinions. Here’s the question:
Q. If you cannot stop before hitting another vehicle it’s usually best to:
A. Gradually slow down and hit the other vehicle.
B. Try to steer around the vehicle and avoid braking hard.
C. Release the accelerator and apply the brakes as hard as you can.
According to the bureaucrats in Lansing, the correct answer is B, try to steer around the vehicle and avoid braking hard. However, the question is about an unavoidable collision, you can’t really steer around a vehicle that you are indeed going to hit, can you? Now if I think about it, I can understand why trying to steer around a collision might mitigate that collision by avoiding head-on impact but that really doesn’t answer the actual question that was asked. I’ve been taught that, yes, under almost all circumstances you do want to maintain control and never, ever, lock up the brakes (well, with modern ABS that’s hard to do, so let’s say “stand on the brakes”), except for when you’re certain that you are going to hit another car or some other large object. When you absolutely can’t avoid a collision, I’ve been taught that you should do what you can to scrub off as much speed as possible before impact and that the best way to do that is to apply the brakes as hard as you can. That would make C the correct answer. Yes, you may lose control as the brakes lock up and the tires start to skid, but that’s the maximum coefficient of friction that you can create at that moment. It may not be a very controlled stop, but skidding to a stop can slow you down in a hurry. If you ice skate, think hockey stops. Locking them up is what you can do that will retard your speed quickest, it’s also just about the only thing you can do, or that’s what I’ve been taught. So what do you say the appropriate response is in the event of an unavoidable collision, try to continue to steer around the collision and avoid hard braking, or stand on the brakes and reduce impact speed as much as possible?
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS