One-Pedal Driving 101: What Is It? Is It Safe? Which New EVs Have It?

On the driver’s side of nearly every car driving on the road today, there are two or three pedals that the driver operates with their feet. The new wave of hybrids, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and electric vehicles (EVs) still have two pedals. So what is “one-pedal driving,” and how does it work?

What is one-pedal driving?

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 pedals with 'Pause' and 'Play' symbols
2021 Volkswagen ID.4 pedals | Volkswagen of America, Inc. Newspress Limited

Electric motor drive systems, designed to provide propulsion in EVs, also reclaim some of that electric power through regenerative braking, also known as regen. A little-known fact is that the major internal components of electric motors and generators are very similar. However, electric motors and generators work precisely opposite each other. 

In 1831, Michael Faraday’s work explained the phenomenon of electromagnetism according to Plant Engineering. Inside an electric motor, electricity flows through wire windings and a magnetic field to create a rotary force. In contrast, a generator uses a rotary force to generate electricity as the wire windings spin past magnets. 

This conversion of energy, electrical to mechanical and back to electrical, makes regen beneficial and one-pedal driving so popular in EVs. In most electric vehicles, regen happens automatically when the driver releases the accelerator pedal. As the EV stops sending electricity to power its motor, it uses the car’s momentum to spin the electric motor and generate electricity. Friction from spinning the electric motor causes the EV to slow, like applying the brakes.

Some new electric vehicles, like the Kia EV6, offer driver-selectable levels of regen. Most EVs sense how much and how quickly the driver releases pressure on the accelerator pedal and engages various levels of regen based on that data. For example, driving at 45 mph and quickly releasing the accelerator results in much higher regenerative braking levels than lifting your foot slowly at the same speed. 

Is this type of driving safe? 

One-pedal driving is as safe as one-handed driving. You should always be ready to press on the brake pedal, just as you should be prepared to drive with both hands. The only real danger is someone becoming accustomed to one-pedal driving and then driving a car that doesn’t support it. 

These are the best EVs for one-pedal driving

The team at MotorTrend put their heads together to determine the best EVs for one-pedal driving. The team found that the Tesla Model S Performance offers the most driver control with its unlinked regen and conventional braking systems. While all Tesla models feature this relationship, the Model S Performance trim shines due to its quick acceleration and sporty handling. 

They placed the Jaguar I-Pace second on their list with its maximum regen providing up to 0.40 g. However, they found the regen settings clumsy to access, and the max regen occurred only after tapping the brake pedal.

Rounding out the list are the Hyundai Kona Electric, Chevrolet Bolt, and Nissan Leaf. Both the Kona Electric and Bolt feature paddles located on the back of the steering wheel to control regen levels and even stop them at low speeds. The Leaf employs a button to activate what Nissan calls “ePedal” to activate one-pedal driving. 

Is one-pedal driving better?

While “better” is a subjective term, and some people won’t immediately like one-pedal driving, the website Cars points out that it does have its benefits. For example, they say that “it can significantly take strain off your leg” when driving in the city or other stop-and-go traffic. 

Using one pedal will require people to trust that their car will truly stop when it needs to. However, other automotive advances such as cruise control, automatic headlights, and backup cameras required the same trust and are now widely accepted. 

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