Sandpanther (sandpanther) wrote,

Worst Case Scenario: Brakes

There's a show on Discovery HD called "Worst Case Scenarios". I found it because it had a segment on what to do if you lose your brakes (specifically on a mountain road), and I was curious to see if it had any new ideas.

Some of the ideas are good. Some are more likely to get you killed.

The Good:

- Turn on the hazards. It's a nice warning.

- Keep your thumbs on the outside of the steering wheel. This is actually a good tip under normal driving situations as well. (Though I'll confess I don't always do it.) The steering wheel can kick unexpectedly and you will break your thumb.

- If there are guard rails, scrape the car along the side to try and slow it. (Don't go head-on, though. Just the side.)

- At low speeds, downshift. Don't do this at higher speeds as it may cause your transmission to fall out. (Me, I drive a manual and know how to double-clutch properly. But I expect your average motorist doesn't know specialized driving techniques.)

- At low speeds, pull the handbrake. When doing so, put it on steadily -- don't jerk it on. (It would have been nice if they had mentioned that detail -- jerking the brake on suddenly can cause a loss of control.) Only do it at lower speeds, like under 20 MPH.)

- At low speeds, call 911. They can send help, help keep you calm, and have good suggestions.

The Dubious:

- Swerve back and forth. This is actually a good suggestion, but needed big warnings attached to it. Swerving back and forth is one way of losing speed. Two big points, though: Do it using a smooth back and forth motion. Don't jerk the wheel or you risk losing traction and control. Second, as the speed picks up the zig-zagging can set up a back and forth motion that can cause you to lose control and roll the car.

- Ride up onto a bank. I would hesitate to recommend this. Going off-road if it's reasonably level is probably okay. But if there's an angle to it, use discretion. Too high on a bank and you'll roll the car, which is highly unsafe under most circumstances.

- Run into bushes. This could be fine, but if you do this, make sure there isn't a large rock or a tree lurking in there. The main goal in all of this is to not stop abruptly. Trees tend to cause very sudden stops, and that's when ouchiness happens.

It's sort of frustrating watching, since so many of the ideas are good. Just some of them are extremely dangerous -- possibly more dangerous than the root problem -- unless one really knows what they're doing.

It occurs to me that someday I should ask my friend what she did when she had her brake master cylinder croak at the top of a very narrow, steep, twisty mountain road.

Interestingly, the show went on to go over some basic self defense techniques, all of which were very good. Some of them would be somewhat unlikely that someone with no aikido training would manage effectively -- I recognize the holds -- but they aren't hard to pick up. I just don't recommend trying to do so while being attacked. And his base point is the best: don't fight if you don't have to. Keep your head up to recognize when you're getting into a dodgy situation and get out, and avoid using physical force if at all possible.

So my verdict on the show is that it could be helpful, but definitely don't check your brain at the door.

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