Anti-Lock Brakes, And Why I Hate Them

This isn’t the first time I’ve ranted about Anti-Lock Brakes. Last time, my post sparked lots of discussion in IRC, IM, and in the comments. I’ve thought long and hard about why exactly I hate them so much, and I’ve come up with why. First though, I should give them credit where credit is due:

I Believe Anti-Lock Brakes Stop on Ice Better Than Humans

Back in my last rant, I pointed out that it seems as though anti-lock brakes do a worse job of stopping than I can do with my human brain and soft pedal touch. Ryder argued that studies have been done (I didn’t bother checking, but let’s assume it’s true) proving anti-lock brakes stop on ice significantly better than any human can manage. For the sake of argument, I’ll agree. But that’s not actually what I hate about anti-lock brakes.

I Believe Anti-Lock Brakes Treat Drivers Like Idiots

And you know what? Many drivers are idiots, so perhaps this is a good thing. I just want the option to turn them off. The thing that really irks me, is “stopping” isn’t always the best course of action in a slippery situation. Anti-lock brakes take away any options a smart, quick thinking driver might utilize. Want to ditch the car? Good luck, a tap on the brakes will take away any maneuvering abilities you may have had. Want to powerslide to point your car in the “least likely to kill anyone” position as you slide past a stop sign? Again, no chance because your brake pedal has grown a mind of its own.

So there it is. I think anti-lock brakes are great for people that need them. I think anti-lock brakes are great for people who aren’t sure if they need them, because they probably do. Heck, I’m SO GLAD anti-lock brakes are in the vehicles of people that slam on the brakes and scream when they approach a stoplight on icy roads.

But honestly, I think I’m a better driver than the computer that pumps the brakes eleventy hundred times a second. Sure, it can stop in a straight line stop on bare ice faster than I can — but there’s more to driving than pumping the brakes, and I think my foot has the upper hand.

25 Comments

  1. Luis Correia says:

    easy answer:
    use a car with actual gears (ie: not automatic) and learn to drive safe (ie: brake with the gearbox).

    second option:
    buy a really crappy car without ABS

  2. Richard Yoo says:

    Expensive cars also have the option of turning off ABS, Stability, and other enhanced braking systems… very common feature in sports cars – often called “track mode” or “competition mode”.

  3. I hate to say it buddy, but you’re wrong. :) You can still TURN the car while under completely full braking with ABS. Your options are greatly increased. If you lock all four wheels up and try to turn while they’re locked… you’re screwed. You’re going in a straight line, I guarantee it. As far as powersliding… you can’t powerslide while braking. You’re just sliding. To powerslide, you have to have the car UNDER POWER… that is, be on the gas and pointing the car with the throttle. :)

    I know ABS makes it feel like you’re not stopping, cause you don’t get the skidding sound you’re used to. But I guarantee you’re stopping in less distance and maintaining control of your vehicle, whereas if you lock up all four wheels, you’re out of control. Wheels need to be turning to be in control.

    I don’t like computer control of things – traction control and such usually drives me nuts. I do think I’m a pretty darn good driver with a smattering of race experience under my belt. But if my car had a button to disable ABS, I’d never ever hit it. It simply makes no sense. ;)

  4. Richard Yoo says:

    Bill – if you think you’d never turn off ABS I’d question if you really have driven a car on a track all that aggressively.

  5. Shawn Powers says:

    Bill – two things:

    1) if you don’t thing proper control of brakes are not a part of pro-actively powersliding, you’re doing it wrong.

    2) changing the way the emergency devices (brakes) work when an emergency is occuring is just dumb.

    And dude, you live in California! I don’t think you can even have this discussion! Very likely you are the type of person I mentioned that SHOULD use antilock brakes. :)

  6. @Richard — It’s been a while since I have driven a car w/o ABS, so maybe that’s old age, lol. None of the cars I’ve owned that have ABS (including the G8 GXP) will let me disable ABS. All I know is that my old Z/28 on the track could get terrifying under full breaking, and cars like the GXP sure feel like I can push them further thanks to the ability to control the car under the full power of the brakes. I will admit to a LOT more drag strip time than road course time. A LOT more. :)

    @Shawn — LOL @ your California comment. You’ve ridden with me, do you think I NEED ABS? ;) Seriously though, I hear what you’re saying and I believed it at one time… but then I got a car with good ABS and had to use it a couple times in panic stops due to someone else’s retardedness… and I think ABS is a damn good thing.

  7. Jim Wright says:

    Shawn, I’m will Bill on this one. You’re nuts. – and let me caveat that with with: I’ve had extensive professional training, and have driven both civilian and military rigs under extreme arctic conditions everywhere from Alaska to northern Canada, Maine, Greenland, and Iceland (and yes, Michigan, which is where I learned to drive), so I do have some experience with this subject. And I currently live in Alaska with the worst damned drivers on the planet.

    ABS is like seat belts and airbags, yes there are always those (few) situations where you might be better off without them, but in reality those situations are vanishingly small compared to the millions of situations where those safety systems will save your life.

    Personally, I have little concern regarding computer control. We trust our lives to computerized systems every day, both embedded and on the macro scale. Most modern aircraft couldn’t fly without computerized control systems, I lived and fought inside US Navy warships and depended every day on embedded computerized control systems for everything from weapons systems to navigation to drinking water. Hell, people depend for their lives on automated medical equipment included implanted systems such as pacemakers and microchips to control seizures – I could go on, but you get the idea.

    Modern cars are hundreds of times safer and more efficient than vehicles of only a few generations ago, You’re bitching because you can’t powerslide the minivan around the track, but seriously, Shawn, how often are you really in that situation?

  8. Somehow I remember this post from somewhere else, and yet it looks new. Anti-lock breaks can be weird, especially if you are used to “pumping” non-anti-lock breaks.

  9. Shawn Powers says:

    Jim — yes, your winter driving cred is valid. :)

    Here’s the thing: We may all have to agree to disagree. I also have no problem with computers braking, in fact, I gave credit where credit is due. They do a much better job of stopping than I can.

    My biggest beef is with “changing the rules” mid crisis. I expect my braking system to consistently work the way I’m accustomed to it working. Perhaps they could be designed so they only go into ABS mode if you slam on the brakes. I could accept that. I just don’t like all maneuvering abilities taken away from me at the slightest loss of traction.

    And Jim, c’mon, how many situations do I wish I had more control over how my truck behaves on black ice? Um, daily? :)

  10. Jim Wright says:

    Are studded tires illegal in Michigan? I think I remember them being banned there since about the mid 70’s maybe?

    We’ve got a lot of black ice up here and studded tires make all the difference.

  11. Shawn Powers says:

    Yeah, totally illegal. Now the only studs allowed are the drivers. :D

    Seriously though, Jim and I conversed via IM about this subject, and although I’ve now vowed to push him in the snow when I next see him, we sorta came to some logical agreements.

    1) 1st generation ABS is much different than current ABS.

    2) My first vehicle with ABS, which sparked my last complaint about it, was 1st gen. My current pickup, which is what rekindled my ABS hatred, is also 1st gen. And truthfully, I hate the ABS in our 2007 minivan much less than I hate it in my pickup. So perhaps there’s something to it.

    3) Jim may be correct on me being nuts, but I don’t think it has anything to do with my braking preferences. ;)

  12. Dr. Phil says:

    Definitely true that newer ABS systems have better programs than earlier units. One reason why ABS was deployed in so many vehicles was the concern about small FWD cars. FWD does drive better in snow and slippery situations than RWD, and pulling yourself through turns feels more stable than pushing. But when you lose the static friction with FWD, you lose power, braking and steering — you are out of control — and the natural tendency for a sliding vehicle is for the weight to go in the back — so now your FWD car is out of control and trying to do a one-eighty spin. GM figured OMG we’re going to have the shit sued out of us as we go to small FWD cars, better do something to save all these people. Because they thought themselves invincible with their FWD in snow and rain and ice and etc.

    Stunt drivers in the movies remove the ABS in order to do all those Hollywood movies. Of course they also rig up explosives in order to jump over things or just plain blow up — and none of that Hollywood shit is the kind of driving you should be doing on a street or road anyway.

    You can, of course, still pulse ABS braking systems — it’s called taking your foot off the brake pedal.

    Dr. Phil

  13. Shawn Powers says:

    You can, of course, still pulse ABS braking systems — it’s called taking your foot off the brake pedal.

    That’s the one thing I think ABS does *better* than humans. Pumping brakes with ABS is just silly.

  14. Dr. Phil says:

    What I meant was that if you pulse your foot off the brake while doing your insane powerslide you want to do, then you’ll have a moment of non-interference. If that’s what you REALLY want to do.

    Dr. Phil

  15. Shawn Powers says:

    Yeah, I shouldn’t have mentioned power-sliding. That’s really a rarity when such a maneuver is wise. I’m more annoyed by things like my left tires being on ice, so my ABS kicks in and won’t let the tires on the right fully brake on the dry pavement (or gravel) they are on.

    ABS also disconnects the driver from any feedback on what the road is like. Are there patches of ice? Are there areas that are slippery, but areas that are possible to control the vehicle in? With ABS, you can’t “test” the road, because it takes over the brake pedal at the slightest loss of traction. They just annoy me. If that’s not already painfully obvious. :)

  16. Shawn's MOM says:

    My new car has anti lock brakes, I’ve tried to like them but I really don’t like it when I’m pushing on them so they will stop the car and I slide clear through an intersection or out into traffic and have no control or options. “Just keep your foot on the brake steady and let the brakes do their job, “YA RIGHT” What I learned with anti lock brakes is you gotta approach places you might have to stop very slowly and never ask them to stop NOW ask them them to stop if they feel like it.

  17. furicle says:

    Type your comment here

    Shawn Powers :

    I’m more annoyed by things like my left tires being on ice, so my ABS kicks in and won’t let the tires on the right fully brake on the dry pavement (or gravel) they are on.

    That would be cheap old ABS indeed. IIUC, even first gen ABS had three channels – one for each front tire and one for the back pair. Modern ABS is four channel on just about everything now AFAIK.

  18. What you said in #15. And yes, I have had to slide the car to avoid an accident before (ended up looking directly at the idiot who nearly caused the accident as we ended up nose to nose – without the slide I would have found my car inside of his). I’m willing to try the “new ABS”, but my experience with the old (which thankfully you can turn as I had to use the shoulder) wasn’t very good (one tire on dry pavement, the other on ice, and the damn thing started pulsing).

  19. Jeremy says:

    “And you know what? Many drivers are idiots, so perhaps this is a good thing. .”

    Think you pretty much summed it up here. I understand your rant since you happened to be in a situation where control is taken away, but its like with guns.

    I’d have more control and feel safer if I have a gun, but I don’t really want to ensure that every idiot has one. Same with the ABS, you may be ok without it, but most drivers don’t know what to do if their brakes lock.

  20. JustVern says:

    You don’t like ABS??? That is crazy. It reminds me of those guys on motorcycles that say” I had to lay it down to avoid the crash!” come on… you crashed!

    ABS brakes give you the most control in a hard stop, and as soon as your tires lose traction (ie skid) you lose control. You can’t stop or turn a motorcycle laying it down, and you can’t control a car in hard braking if the tires stop rotating.

    A “power slide” won’t avoid an accident, and you’ll just hit the object harder because you have lost your traction. You accelerate better with traction, and you decelerate better with traction.

    ’nuff said!

  21. Roberta says:

    You sound like you think you’re a stunt car driver or something. In 99.99% of driving situations, having abs is better than not having it.

    I do understand your point about rather feeling in control than having a computer do it for you, even if the computer supposedly does it better. It’s like when my desk is messy and someone cleans it up for me and I don’t know where anything is anymore. Sure, its cleaner now, but what good is it if I can’t f*** find anything??

  22. T. Charles says:

    “Bill – two things:

    1) if you don’t thing proper control of brakes are not a part of pro-actively powersliding, you’re doing it wrong.

    2) changing the way the emergency devices (brakes) work when an emergency is occuring is just dumb.”

    Shawn, you raised interesting points!

  23. Sam says:

    It’s a great blog to share for the safety precautions to those who have car..This will help from any accident in the road. All should know the rules and regulations in driving..

  24. Karen Reilly says:

    Have a cr v all wheel drive hate it in the snow because of the anti lock breaks. My husband didn’t believe me .went out for a ride in the snow hit a car because my car would not stop. The dealer said your not stopping right.

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