Improving your driving - braking

Read Marmalade's complete guide on how to brake safely and improve your driving scores!


By Marmalade Author

Updated on Aug 11th, 2021

For our young drivers braking is the second most common issue we see flagged in journeys – after harsh cornering. We get it – sometimes you just have to brake hard but if it’s happening a lot, it’s likely to be that you need to work on your observation, anticipation and reaction to hazards.

Our handy guide and app are here to help you improve those skills – and what’s more – our smoothest, safest drivers can earn an extra safe driving discount at renewal!


How do we measure braking?

Without getting too technical - the device will measure the force in a particular direction when you are braking or accelerating – the force will work in the opposite direction (so if you are braking the force will be forward). You’ve probably experienced it yourself, maybe when you’ve left your purse or wallet on the passenger seat, you’ve stopped quickly and seen it launch forward into the footwell.

Tips to avoid hard braking

We’ve heard all sorts of weird and wonderful excuses for multiple braking events – one of my favourites is from someone who mentioned they live in the countryside where there are lots of horses and rabbits, so they always need to brake a lot!

One of the reasons we chose to share this example is to highlight how you may need to adapt your driving style to avoid braking too much in different circumstances. It’s not only animals that lead us to brake sharply – there are lots of times where you will need to adapt your driving style. So, here are some top tips for a super smooth drive!

Tip 1 – keep your distance

If you’re too close to the car in front of you there’s a higher risk of an accident if they need to react to a hazard – as you won’t have the space or time to stop safely. It helps to keep in mind the “thinking and stopping distances” you learned in the Highway Code, but there’s also a couple of easy-to-remember tricks that will help you stay safe.

Tyres and tarmac - remember this catchy phrase for when you’re in slow moving traffic or a queue. You should always be able to see the tyres of the car in front and some tarmac (about 1 foot per mile per hour), so that you have space to stop if they suddenly brake. When you stop you should be able to see the tarmac behind the tyres of the vehicle in front.

2 second rule - this is a handy one to use on straight roads. By keeping a minimum 2 second time gap between you and the car in front you will be giving yourself time to stop if they suddenly apply their brakes. The time should be increased in poor weather.

  • You can work out the time gap between you and the car in from by looking ahead to a fixed object or road marking they will soon pass (e.g. a lamppost or road sign).
  • As the rear of the car in front lines up with this object, or road marking, count to 2 seconds. If you start to pass this object in less than two seconds, you will need to increase your distance until more than 2 seconds pass from then next marker you choose.
  • In rain, increase this to 4 seconds, as you’ll need more space to stop. In snow and ice this should be increased further by 10 times.

Important: Know your own brakes – the advice on how much room to leave to brake is a guide. Some cars will differ in how responsive the brakes are, and you may need to leave a longer distance. It goes without saying that you should get your brakes checked if you are experiencing any issues, and keep up with regular car maintenance and servicing.

Tip 2 – look beyond what’s just in front

When you took your driving test- good observation and hazard perception were key factors to pass. It’s just as important to use and develop these skills further after you have passed.

  • Scan what’s coming up ahead – obviously you need to keep an eye on the car in front and ensure you are at a safe distance, as well as checking your mirrors, as and when you need to. It’s equally as important to look as far ahead as you can up the road to see if you need to prepare to stop.
  • Signs you may spot that may mean you’ll need to slow down or prepare to stop could include:
    • Brake lights or hazard lights ahead
    • Road work signs
    • Emergency services lights
    • Road signs identifying change in speed, road layout, pedestrian crossing, school, etc.
    • Red cross or speed limit change on Smart Motorway signs
    • We could go on, but we’re pretty sure you get the idea 

Tip 3 – Proactively prepare for hazards

If you plan for how the hazard may affect you before it actually does it will allow you to be prepared for the worst. If you’re scanning the road ahead, you’ll have a good idea as to what could become a hazard.

  • Once you identify something that could become a hazard, ease off the accelerator and start to slow down. Here are some examples:
    • You spot a learner driver ahead - they may need to stop suddenly, or stall (we’ve all been there!)
    • You are approaching a junction and can see the nose of a car. They may not have spotted you and may pull out.
    • You spot signs showing there are animals in the area.
    • You’re passing a school at pick-up time. Children, distracted parents, scooters. Need we say more?

If it becomes a hazard you will be able to apply your brakes in a more controlled manner and are more likely to be able to come to a safe stop (or move out of the way of the hazard if safe to do so).

If it ceases to become a hazard you can continue and gradually increase your speed if appropriate.

Tip 4 – Slow down steadily

If you’re following all the tips above, slowing down steadily will be a breeze and you’ll feel more in control. As you see what is coming up you can prepare to slow down safely by following the steps below:

  • Well ahead of a junction or speed change, start by easing off the accelerator to begin to slow naturally.
  • Brake gently to settle the car suspension, brake more firmly to reduce speed and gently release to re-settle the suspension
  • Change to a lower gear if you need to, to ensure you retain good control of the car.
  • Brake more firmly, or brake fully to come to a complete stop if necessary.

Tip 5 – Always drive at an appropriate speed

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “It’s a speed limit, not a target”. This really is true. Just because there’s a speed limit on a road, it doesn’t mean you should be driving at that speed at all times along the road!

  • Some rural roads may have a speed limit of 50 or 60, but also have a number of bends and dips. At times you will need to drive a lot slower.
  • In densely populated areas or around schools and colleges, as well as areas you may have a lot of wildlife (like the New Forest, for example), there’s a high chance that you may need to stop (maybe even multiple times). Taking it much slower than the speed limit, especially at peak times, will help you avoid regular braking instances.
  • If you know you’re approaching a village, a new road layout or the speed limit changes soon. Rather than braking when you reach it, reduce your speed much earlier by easing off the accelerator, so that you are entering the new zone at the right speed. If you then need to slow down or stop you won’t need to brake suddenly.
  • Some roads may have variable or temporary speed limits in place. It may not always be obvious why, but there will be a reason for it. It’s important to stick to these (even when others don’t!).

Driving at an appropriate speed is not only safer, but it’s also more fuel efficient than repeatedly speeding up and braking, so your pocket will thank you too!

Will I be penalised for braking?

There will be times you simply have to brake to avoid an accident. This will still show up on your journey, however justified it is. However, a one off really isn’t a cause for concern and won’t result in a red (or unsafe) journey notification. We’ll only be getting in touch if there are multiple unsafe driving incidents in your journey (this needn’t just be braking – it could be combined with speeding, cornering, acceleration or phone use).

It’s rare, but repeated unsafe driving could result in a premium increase. Read more about our driver improvement process here.

Get set for the open road!

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By Marmalade Author

Providing tips and advice for young drivers on all aspects of driving - from getting through the driving test to buying and running your first car.

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