Brake Failure – Coping in a Crisis

A couple of weeks ago the daughter of a friend of mine posted on Facebook ‘1 month ago today I crashed and I still can’t get behind the wheel of a car! How pathetic!!’. Of course I responded to this saying that I could help her if she wanted me to. This resulted in a telephone conversation about what had happened.

It turned out that she was driving back from college on a wet afternoon travelling at the legal limit of  50mph on a dual carriageway with a friend in the car. She came to slow down at the traffic lights but her brakes had failed! One of the scariest things to have happen to you in a car. We have now been out once in my car – as it has dual controls – and started to re-build her confidence. I will be seeing her again this week and we will being driving back on the journey she crashed on for the first time.

This has got me thinking. How many people actually know what to do when their brakes fail? It isn’t something that I usually teach my learners but I am certainly including it now in their lessons. For all the people who don’t know what to do, then my advice is below:

  • First, and most important, DON’T PANIC! Easier said than done I know but if you do it will only make matters worse and you won’t be able to think.
  • Pay attention to what your brake feels like. If it goes all the way to the floor then you may have low brake fluid or a faulty cylinder or faults with the brake drums or calipers.
  • If your brake is stiff and won’t move then your brakes may have seized or you might have something stuck under the pedal.
  • Try rebuilding the pressure in your brake by pumping it, irrespective of whether you have ABS. ABS only works in you push down quickly and hard on the pedal. Once you have pumped the brake, then push down hard to try and use all the pressure you have re-built.
  • Shift down gears. If you are in fourth gear then go down to second. This will cause the engine to break and make the speed match the gear. If you are in an automatic transmission then downshift to 1 or 2.
  • Use the handbrake. Using this too quickly will cause the car to skid. Apply it slowly, so it starts to put pressure on the rear wheels making the car start to slow down. Keeping the button in on the handbrake will also mean you will have continuous control of the braking and be able to modulate the amount of pressure you are applying. If you feel the tyres start to lock then release it a little and then reapply.
  • Warn other drivers by putting your hazard lights on and/or sounding your horn
  • If there is room on either side of your car then turn your wheels from side to side. This will create friction and naturally cause you to slow down. DO NOT do it at high speeds, however, as it may cause your car to flip.
  • Use the area around you to slow the car down. If none of the above works then you can use what is available to you in close vicinity. For example, the terrain, especially if it is an incline, will help slow you. Guard rails by gently side-swiping your car. Gravel and dirt will help slow your car but be cautious as sudden terrain changes could cause your car to flip
  • If all else fails, and you have no other option, then hit the car in front of you. Whilst this should not be your first choice, it will stop you. Try and warn the other driver by sounding your horn and also try and choose a car that is travelling around the same speed as yours. It will cause less impact and harm on you and the other driver as a result. Try your best to hit them square on to the rear to help control of both vehicles.

I hope all this helps someone out there today!

I’ve linked this post up with You: The Expert! over at Emily Davies Writes



  1. October 11, 2016 / 11:37 am

    Hey Victoria. Thanks for posting about this. Not a lot of people on my ‘friends list’ seem to know what they should do if their car brakes stop working (I posted a status asking for their input) and I’d just like to add that you’re a kind soul for being there for your Facebook friend in her hour of need. But what’s more is that people should know what to do when their brakes stop working. For their passengers, children, pedestrians and of course other driver. Thanks for your post, Victoria.

  2. March 21, 2016 / 11:04 pm

    I was in an accident not too long ago also. It is definitely a traumatic experience, luckily nobody was seriously injured. I still remember driving a car for the first time after. It is super important to make sure your car receives regular maintenance. The brakes on my car should have been replaced before the accident.

  3. December 3, 2012 / 8:02 pm

    wow, i had never even thought of this happening! i now have goosebumps! fingers crossed it never happens

    • Victoria
      December 3, 2012 / 10:40 pm

      I know! Scary stuff, huh?!

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