A Driving Instructor's Blog

You do see and hear some funny things, sometimes. In this case, it was one of those conversations where one of the protagonists is desperate to prove themselves right and everyone else… well, vastly inferior in some way.

This character made the statement that the Emergency Stop isn’t in the DT1. For anyone who doesn’t know, DT1 is the Standard Operating Procedure used by the DSA, which covers all aspects of the driving test. And just for the record, on page 41 of the current iteration of that document (note that it is updated frequently, so wording may vary), we have the following:

1.31 EMERGENCY STOP

An emergency stop should be carried out on one third of tests chosen at random. It can normally be carried out at any time during the test; but the emergency stop exercise MUST be carried out safely where road and traffic conditions are suitable. If an emergency has already arisen naturally during the test this special exercise is not required; in such cases the candidate should be told and a note made on the DL25.

With the vehicle at rest the examiner should explain to the candidate that they will shortly be tested in stopping the vehicle in an emergency, as quickly and safely as possible.

The warning to stop the vehicle will be the audible signal “Stop!” together with a simultaneous visual signal given by the examiner raising the right hand to face level, or in the case of a left hand drive vehicle, raising the left hand. This should be demonstrated.

The examiner should explain to the candidate that they will be looking over their shoulder to make sure it is safe to carry out the exercise, and that they should not preempt the signal by suddenly stopping when the examiner looks round, but should wait for the proper signal to be given. To minimise the risk of premature braking, examiners are advised to ask the candidate if they understand the ES instructions. The emergency stop must not be given on a busy road or where danger to following or other traffic may arise.

It is essential that examiners take direct rear observation to ensure that it is perfectly safe to carry out the exercise. They must not rely on the mirrors. If the exercise cannot be given within a reasonable time the candidate should be asked to pull up, care being taken to choose the right moment as the candidate will have been expecting the emergency stop signal and may react accordingly. They should then be advised that the exercise will be given later and that they will be warned again beforehand. Alternatively, if conditions ahead are expected to be favourable, they should be reminded that the exercise will be given shortly, and the instructions repeated if necessary.

If a candidate asks whether they should give an arm signal, they should be told that the command to stop will be given only when it appears that no danger will arise as a result of a sudden stop, but that they should assume that an extreme emergency has arisen and demonstrate the action they would take in such a case.

The emergency stop exercise must not be used to avoid a dangerous situation.

That seems fairly conclusive to me. The Emergency Stop IS in DT1, and it is conducted on one out of every three tests. It’s also worth pointing out a few things that worry learners, all of which are mentioned above or in the rest of DT1:

  • you will not be asked to do it on a busy road
  • the examiner will check behind first, so you don’t have to
  • having to do it in a real situation does not count as having done it on the test
  • it will not be done as part of Independent Driving

This is quite straightforward. Furthermore, DT1 adds:

ABS – Anti-lock braking system.

Note: Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) are being fitted to an increasing number of vehicles. Examiners should not enquire if a vehicle presented for a test is fitted with ABS.

Most ABS systems require the clutch and footbrake to be depressed harshly at the same time to brake in an emergency situation; therefore a fault should not be recorded purely for using this technique with a vehicle fitted with ABS on the emergency stop exercise. On the emergency stop exercise, under severe braking, tyre or other noise may be heard, this does not necessarily mean the wheels have locked and are skidding. Examiners should bear these points in mind when assessing the candidate’s control during this exercise. Further advice regarding ABS is given in the DSA publication ‘driving the essential skills’.

As with the Emergency Stop per se, there are those who would embark upon a crusade to find the most obscure engineering documents available for their vehicles simply to be able to take issue with this. I’ve mentioned ABS and the Emergency Stop before for precisely this reason. However, the upshot as far as anyone’s driving test is concerned is that if the car has ABS – and the vast majority do – it doesn’t matter if the ABS kicks in (and makes a noise outside, with vibration on the brake pedal inside) during the exercise. As long as the driver is in control and stops the car promptly then the Emergency Stop will have been completed satisfactorily.

The Emergency Stop will be carried out as a totally separate exercise on the test. The examiner will ask you to pull over and he will then explain as follows (again, taken from DT1):

Pull up on the left please (either specify location or use normal stop wordings) Shortly I shall ask you to carry out an emergency stop. When I give this signal, (simultaneously demonstrate, and say) ‘Stop’, I’d like you to stop as quickly and as safely as possible. Before giving the signal I shall look round to make sure it is safe, but please wait for my signal before doing the exercise.

Do you understand the instructions?

Once you have completed your Emergency Stop, he will say something along the lines of:

Thank you. I will not ask you to do that exercise again. Drive on when you are ready.

It’s that simple. And the decision over what is and isn’t acceptable lies with the examiner.

Of course, going back the comments made by the individual I referred to at the start of this article, there is every likelihood that his statement had some hidden pedantry outside of the obvious message it conveys (some people revel in trying to be clever). But even if that were the case it is a pointless and misleading comment, since the Emergency Stop IS in DT1 and it IS carried out on one third of all tests. Any “brilliant” schoolboy wordplay beyond that means zilch!

What would be a minor (driver) or serious fault on this manoeuvre?

The procedure as I teach it is as follows (immediately after the STOP command):

  • brake firmly
  • declutch just before stall point
  • keep both hands on the steering wheel
  • once stopped, apply handbrake
  • put into neutral
  • look all around1
  • relax

Then, once the instruction to drive on is given:

  • put into gear
  • gas/bite ready
  • look all around2
  • if safe, release handbrake and drive off

Possible driver (minor) faults might include stalling, going for the gear lever or handbrake before the car stops, or not looking all around1,2 properly after you’ve stopped.

Possible serious faults might include getting into a mess/panic after stalling, not stopping quickly enough, putting the clutch down before the brake, or not looking all around2 at all before you move off.

Some faults might be only minor in some cases, but become serious if other traffic is around. For example, stalling before you move off and not checking all around again. Or if stalling/panicking causes a hold up for traffic. Or moving off before you’ve looked around properly and someone is overtaking you. The examiner’s decision is what counts because every situation is different.

If you do it right – or even close to being right – on your lessons you’re almost certainly not going to fail your test over it. I’ve never had anyone fail for it. So make sure that you CAN do it right on your lessons.

Will I fail if I stall on the emergency stop?

No, you shouldn’t if you react appropriately by making the car safe, then get it started again promptly. It will usually be marked as a driver fault. However, you are on test and you might panic and do something else wrong which could result in you failing.

Should I signal when I move off after an emergency stop?

In most cases it isn’t necessary, and you certainly don’t want to be doing it before you’ve looked to see if anyone might benefit. However, if you look around and decide that you should signal – for a pedestrian perhaps, or if someone is coming towards you from either direction – then do it (make sure you signal right and not left).

Why shouldn’t I use the handbrake to stop?

Depending on how old you are, you may remember from certain action movies that the characters involved in car chases sometimes brake, skid the car around, then drive off the other way. What they are doing is called “a handbrake turn”.

The handbrake usually only operates on the rear wheels, and if you are driving along and pull it sharply it can lock the wheels, and that causes them to skid. Since only the back wheels lock, the rear of the car spins around because for all practical purposes the rear wheels are not gripping the road surface.

It’s all well and good if you’re doing a stunt for a movie shoot, but on roads where there are other road users it is incredibly dangerous. Imagine an emergency situation, where you need to stop as quickly as possible, and usually in a straight line. You aren’t going to achieve that if the rear wheels spin out and are not gripping the road surface. At best, you’ll stop over a much longer distance because the handbrake isn’t designed to stop the car in the first place. At the worst, the car will spin out of control and you might hit something or someone – or even roll it.

On top of that, the ABS on modern vehicles functions via the footbrake (which is hydraulically controlled through the car’s on-board computer), not via the handbrake (which is a  simple manually operated cable system). In a handbrake stop you have no ABS functionality.

If you apply the handbrake before the car has stopped in the Emergency Stop exercise you’re almost certainly going to get a serious fault for it.

Can you stop using the handbrake in any other situation?

The classic example is if your normal brakes fail for some reason – you press the footbrake and nothing happens. Your only option is the slow down and stop using the handbrake.

It happened to me many years ago when I’d flushed my brake system, but left an air lock in it somewhere. I came to a T-junction and the car wouldn’t stop, so I used the handbrake to slow it down. Fortunately no one was coming, because I couldn’t stop in time for the junction, but I did prevent the car ending up in someone’s living room!

I’m an ADI. How should I teach the Emergency Stop?

You really ought to know this. It isn’t rocket science. What I do is run through skids and how to deal with them, the factors likely to cause them, and so on. I have a few stories about when unexpected things have happened to me (like the time I was in a column of traffic driving at 60mph in the Cotswolds and a herd of deer ran out about 5 metres in front of the van at the front, who slammed into them because he couldn’t do anything). Then I explain the Emergency Stop procedure, which is basically as follows:

  • I give the signal
  • You brake hard, then put the clutch down – IN THAT ORDER
  • Put the handbrake on and put it in neutral
  • Look all around

When I (or the examiner) says to drive on:

  • Put it in gear and get ready to move off
  • Look all around
  • If it’s clear, release the handbrake and drive off

Looking all around – and that includes both blind spots – before you move off is critical because traffic or pedestrians could be passing either side of you. If you just glance in your mirrors after you’ve stopped you tend to get away with it, but if you try that as you drive off then it’s pretty much a fail. No guarantees, of course, but if you look properly it won’t be an issue.

I like to feel as though the ABS is about to kick in when a pupil stops. If the ABS does kick in a little, even better. But I don’t want them stamping hard on the pedal.

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