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You’ve probably seen the large handbrake lever or parking brake switch in every car that you’ve been in, but have you ever wondered what it’s for? As you may know, the parking brake is meant to be used after you put the car in park so that it doesn’t roll away if the brake system fails. But what happens if you engage the parking brake when driving fast?

Spin or stop?

A parking brake on a Toyota 86
A parking brake on a Toyota 86 | Wikimedia Commons

The parking brake is also called the “emergency brake” because you’re supposed to use it ideally in cases where you need to make an emergency stop. For example, if your brake pedal hits the floor when you press it, which most likely means you lost hydraulic pressure, then you can use the emergency brake to slow you down gradually since it’s connected via cables. However, the rate at which the emergency brake slows you to a stop depends on how fast you’re going in the first place.

What we mean by this is if you were traveling at a slower rate of speed, say 20 mph or below, then the emergency brake will slow the car down and bring it to an abrupt stop. However, if you were traveling at a higher rate of speed, say 30 mph or above, then there’s a good chance that your car will go into a skid or possibly spin uncontrollably and flip.

This is what can happen if you pull the e-brake on the highway | Youtube

What about electronic parking brakes?

If your car is equipped with an electronic parking brake, then you’ll be in a little more luck if you were to pull that little switch on your center console when traveling at speed. The reason is that electronic parking brakes are computer-controlled, so instead of having a couple of mechanical cables pulling on the rear brakes when you pull the lever up, there are a couple of motors that do the job gradually.

As such, when you activate an electronic parking brake at a higher rate of speed, the car will gradually slow down to a complete stop. It’s actually pretty uneventful in comparison to what happens when your car has a regular hand-powered emergency brake, but it’s a great safety feature nonetheless. In case you need a visual demonstration, check out the following video:

An electronic parking brake at work | Youtube

The death of the hand-brake turn

If you’re a driving enthusiast, you probably already figured out that the invention of the electronic parking brake and computer-assisted slowdown means that there will be no more cool hand-brake turns in the future, and you would be correct. To get that cool slide, as if you were in a “Fast and Furious” movie, your car would still need to be equipped with a proper hand-activated parking brake so that you can control the amount of brake input that the car receives.

Unfortunately, with today’s modern electronic parking brakes, the car will just slow to a stop. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s a definite “win” when it comes to added safety.


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