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Why all the fuss over left-foot braking?

May 22, 2012

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, May 22, 2012

Left-foot braking is a safe, effective and efficient way for experienced drivers to slow, stop or control a vehicle.

Many drivers who learned on a standard transmission vehicle find it easy to use two feet when driving an automatic. (I am willing to bet Henry Ford used two feet on his first automobile.)

Make no mistake, if a driver uses left-foot braking on the driver’s test at any level, a fail will be registered by the examiner. This is the present rule as enforced in B.C. It is a misguided policy decision based on an overreaction to the anticipated behaviour of both newer and older drivers. The left-foot brake manoeuvre, while uncommon, can be mastered by newer drivers when it is properly taught. That will never be the case under the testing rules of today, which are all too zealously enforced by the monopoly enterprise responsible for driver testing in several provinces. It would be irresponsible for any driving school, parent or other co-pilot to knowingly teach a method of vehicle braking that would result in an automatic failure on a driver’s test. (Left-foot braking is permitted on the test when stabilizing the vehicle on the pull away from an uphill park.)

Licensing authorities seem to think new drivers will confuse the pedals, resulting in a dangerous situation for the tester and student.

Seniors who must do a re-test are often confounded by the seemingly ridiculous anti-left-foot brake policy.

There are advantages to left-foot braking.

There is less likelihood for the brake and gas pedals to be confused. The driver can get to the brake quicker than with a right-foot-only braking method.

The negatives of the above mentioned braking method are obvious to most all driving examiners and instructors. Many drivers, who use the left foot for braking, will lag a foot on the brake while accelerating with the right foot on the gas pedal. A loss of control can happen when the brake and gas are simultaneously applied. The torque that results from one pedal fighting the other is often responsible for drivers losing control on slippery surfaces. This can endanger the safety of the public, professional examiners administering the driving test and candidates taking the test.

I have great sympathy for those seniors who have been left-foot braking for their entire driving career. It is reasonable for drivers who are comfortable and experienced with the technique to apply the practice throughout the driving test. In fact, the reason some seniors do so poorly on the driving test is obvious. They are trying to do a right-foot-only braking method with which they are unfamiliar.

There is no law that states the preference for right-foot only braking. I use the left-foot technique when in an urban environment and usually switch to the right-foot-only method on the high-speed highway drives. For emergency situations, I have trained myself to go to the brake as quickly as possible, by using my left foot. The same response is often the natural reaction of left handed drivers.

If an experienced driver wishes to use a left-foot braking method on a driver’s test, it should be accepted. If that same driver lags the brake or levers the gas pedal on more than two occasions, a failure on the driver’s test should be recorded.

Driver-testing authorities should revisit the outdated policy concerning left-foot braking by experienced drivers undergoing a driving re-test.

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is the former Canadian vice-president of the Driving School Association of the Americas and a certified B.C. teacher.

stevedwallace@shaw.ca

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stevedwallace@shaw.ca

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