Posted by: safedriver | March 3, 2012

Left foot or right foot?

Growing up I saw my parents do many things that I find I do now myself. I think that’s a pretty common thing in most of our lives. They of course were a big influence in our adult lives. That also includes how they drove when you were a kid.

I remember watching my dad drive and thought he was a good driver. He saw many things early and was able to avoid tough situations. I also noticed he used his left foot on the brake and his right foot on the gas. I thought that was normal, so when I was 16 years old and beginning my driving lessons, I did the same thing, until my driving instructor corrected me. I didn’t think there was a big deal with this technique until I became a driving instructor seven years after becoming a licensed driver.

The driver in this photo was most likely doing the same thing as my dad did. His left foot was resting against the brake pedal with anticipation of having to brake. A couple of issues here; first he was wearing down his brakes with the constant friction against the brake pads. Second; he was confusing the drivers behind him. How would they know if he was actually braking or still riding the brakes? It may be too late if he stops in an emergency for a child running out because his warning lights were on the entire time.

Here’s the main problem about left foot braking, it doesn’t stop you as quick as you think it does in an emergency. With the human emotions taking a big part in our driving skills, our right foot would continue to press the gas pedal, even slightly, while our left toot hits the brake pedal. It counter-balances our need to stop quickly.

I’ve had students from Young Drivers of Canada who tried to do the same thing. I had to show them it didn’t work as well as they thought. As the saying goes, actions prove louder than words. They had to see for themselves. We do emergency braking in a controlled environment at Young Drivers of Canada so I had the student apply the brakes with their left foot when I suddenly commanded “STOP!” at a specific speed and location. I measured their stopping distance and then had them try it again with their right foot applying the brakes. Their stopping distance was hugely improved. I never had to remind them again about only using their right foot on the pedals.

The main difference for an improved stopping distance was their left foot was able to counter balance their weight transfer so they had more pressure to apply into their braking. If your left foot is placed up against the firewall of the vehicle, it can allow you to push yourself back in your seat. That will then allow you to press harder against the brake pedal in an emergency. Sit in your vehicle while parked and try this. You will automatically feel the difference in leg strength when you apply the brake this way.

My dad still taught me a lot of things I use in my life to this very day, but braking isn’t one of them. Sorry dad.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for pointing out, this is probably an issue with people who do not learn from professional driving instructors.

  2. I couldn’t disagree more. I feel (coming from an auto racing background) that your dad had several miliseconds quicker response time, than you will ever have with the presently taught and accepted method.
    I have been driving for 40 years, and you will never see me ‘riding’ my brake as I’m also a mechanic that understands friction!

    I wonder how many rear enders could be avoided daily if drivers were defensively ‘poised’ to brake, rather than fumbling from one pedal to the next!

    • Well, I guess we can agree to disagree. Thanks for the comment. By the way, most drivers don’t have a “racing background” and may not respond as quick as you say you do. You may find this interesting to read as it too was from someone with a racing background. Ross Bentley’s High Performance Driving Tips – Left Foot Braking (PDF) http://www.bmwccvi.ca/documents/Tip%2021%20-%20Left%20Foot%20Braking.pdf

    • I have also been driving for 40 years and use left foot for brake and right foot for accelerator pedal and have never made a mistake and never ride my brake pedal!

    • If you come from a racing background, as you claim, then your left foot is for the clutch, not the brake.

  3. Left foot braking is not the same as resting your foot against the brake.

    As of hitting the wrong pedal, that is muscle memory. If your used to left foot braking, all your muscle memory is in your left leg. No fear of hitting the wrong pedal (unless your using a clutch). With that kind of muscle memory, I think it’s more likely to hit the wrong pedal driving the conventional way.

    It’s not even needed for racing. Simply for winter driving too as using both pedals can correct understeer in fwd, understeer in rwd, and allow you to lock differentials when you need the extra traction.

  4. Well however it requires a huge amount of time to move your right foot to the brake pedals when emergency. As time passes it is more efficient to use left foot for braking.

  5. left foot brake right foot gas. Makes sense! Two pedals. Helps when doing a bunout too! If everyone did it you would never hear of someone standing on gas and driving thru a building thinking they had foot on brake.

  6. How many accidents have happened BECAUSE of left foot braking. Take a look at “driving fails” on the Internet and answer this simple question. If the right foot is reserved for accelerating and braking and the left foot is redundant, how many people when applying the brake would not stop their vehicle.


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