“BRAKING” a bad habit

How an unhealthy attraction to the left pedal will lead us all to ruin.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

How an unhealthy attraction to the left pedal will lead us all to ruin.

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LET’S talk about brakes, arguably the most importan t set of equipment in a car. Alas, these things are also the most disrup tive and infuriating part o f a vehicle – when used unwisely. This column will discuss 10 different driving habits that you can kick to achieve a more enlightened and judicious usage of that left pedal.


Tailgating is too common (and polite) a term. Motorists who come so close to your car’s rear remind me of a certain unsavoury canine behaviour. Tail-sniffing usually leads to unnecessary braking. You may say: “So what if I tap on the brakes every now and then?” Well, nothing wrong, if you are the only driver on Earth. The thing is, every time you brake, you cause a chain reaction that results in slower traffic flow. Traffic engineers call this a “shockwave” effect,and it ripples for kilometres. Oftentimes, you will come across slow traffic on an expressway, thinking that there’s an accident or roadworks ahead. But there is none. It is quite likely that the congestion is caused merely by drivers tapping on their brakes when they come to a bend or an exit/entrance. But if you keep a proper distance, there is no need to brake. All you need is just to ease off on the throttle.


This is like tunnel vision, only worse if you are a driver. It means not looking beyond the bridge of your nose, and failing to notice changes in traffi c conditions ahead – such as an approaching bend, speed hump, merging traffi c, or that granny attempting to shuffl e across your path. Nose vision leads to needless application of the left pedal. And as mentioned earlier, braking begets braking. Before you know it, your inattentiveness has manifested into a serpentine jam that tails back 10km. If you pay attention to what happens beyond your nose, you will be able to anticipate better, which in turn will allow you to minimise braking.

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Like unsafe sex, unsafe texting can have dire consequences – not only to you, but also to others around you. Driving journeys in Singapore are typically short, with most over in under 30 minutes. It is inconceivable that one cannot bear to part with his mobile device for 30 minutes. But lo and behold, there are people who can’t. You see them flouting mobile-phone usage laws openly, others covertly.

Once, I saw a woman who mounted her iPad on the steering boss, browsing her Facebook while on the go. People who practise unsafe text will invariably brake unnecessarily. Or they will move very slowly, straddle lanes, or weave, which all lead to more braking (by people around them). Culprits must be prosecuted to the hilt. Better still, make them display an automotive version of the scarlet letter – a shaming device that tells others of his/her misdeeds.


Road-hogging has become too tame a term for this repugnant behaviour. Thus, I use roadpigging. But what does this piggish behaviour have to do with braking, you ask? Well, road pigs are, for one, more likely to brake for no reason at all. They also propagate overtaking, which in turn propagates braking by motorists in other lanes. So please, if 40km/h is as fast as you can manage, use the park connectors – on a bicycle, of course.


This is a form of lane-changing that is, well, lame. Variations to this behaviour include switching lanes without signalling (or going left when signalling right); lane-weaving (can’t decide which lane to be in); overtaking on the left; overtaking leisurely; straddling two lanes; an inability to keep to the centre of a lane; and merging within metres of an approaching vehicle.

This behaviour is often associated with a more serious neurosis known as “my grandfather’s road” syndrome, which can also manifest into other social maladies such as indiscriminate parking and taking forever to move off from the traffic lights. Lame-changing leads to plenty of unwanted braking. In fact, it often leads to hard braking, which sends bigger shockwaves down the road. Like carriers of diseases, the perpetrator is unaffected by lame-changing. It is those around him/her who suffer.


When an extraordinarily long vehicle like a trailer negotiates a turn, it has to swing out before turning in. That is exactly the way many car drivers turn, even if they are driving a Volkswagen Polo or a Kia Picanto. The only explanation for this is that these drivers were ex-trailer or lorry drivers. And going by the rampantness of this driving technique, Singapore must have at least 100,000 former drivers of trailers.

Quite probable, since we are one of the busiest ports in the world. Trailer-turning, of course, leads to unnecessary braking, chiefly by motorists in the adjacent lane. Drivers who make such wide turning manoeuvres are invariably also extremely slow in turning. So the shockwaves they create are on the scale of a tsunami. Unfortunately, there is no regulation against such an idiotic move. But there should be – perhaps one that requires the culprit to trail a trailer for three months.

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How often have you followed another vehicle into a carpark, and found yourself having to wait for its driver to park? Quite often, I imagine. It is understandable when there is only one space left in the entire carpark. But usually there are several other spaces ahead. When you know there are other vehicles behind you, it is only polite to take the space farther away. Or if you have weak knees or a weaker bladder, and thus have to park nearest to the lift, pull to the side so others can pass and get to the other parking spaces.

Drivers who practise punkparking are often poor in parking as well. So they will back in and pull out se veral times before they are satisfied. They are also the ones who take ages to leave, especially if they notice there are other motorists waiting. Punk-parking not only causes unnecessary braking, it gives rise to unnecessary engine idling as well.


No, this does not refer to waiters who are extra cautious with your soup. It refers to drivers who must be at the front of a queue. You will see them approaching a line at a traffi c junction in one lane, but switching to another (maybe three lanes away) that happens to have one car fewer in the queue.

This triggers lots of braking on the part of other road users. This kind of behaviour is uncalled for. How much time do you save, 0.2 of a second? And at what expense? One fine day, a trailer will plough into you. No, not the Picanto I mentioned earlier in Trailer- Turning, but the real McCoy with 16 wheels.


With the proliferation of new digital speed cameras, many motorists are erring on the side of caution when they approach one of these orange sentinels. They will slow down to 20 to 30km/h below the limit, just to be on the safe side. No prize for guessing that this leads to unnecessary braking.

Not only on the part of the camera-shy driver, but by others behind him/her, too. This is completely uncalled for. If you keep to the speed limit, you can sail by a camera without triggering its dreaded flash. And if you resist tailsniffing, you can achieve this without having to touch the left pedal.


The faster you go, the slower everybody gets. This may sound like a twisted theory of relativity, but it is actually a known traffic phenomenon. When vehicles are moving at a higher speed, they require bigger gaps. Bigger gaps in between vehicles diminish a road’s capacity.

On the whole, everybody suffers. Not only that, the speedster often ends up with an illusion of time saved. In the real world, speeding seldom leads to an appreciable reduction in travel time – not when there are so many traffic lights, junctions and, generally, other cars. And once again, speeding leads to hard braking. It also leads to nervous braking, which then ripples across the entire length of a road. And of course, speeding carries with it a higher risk of accidents.

All you need is one ac cident to wipe out the seconds saved over a period of 10 years. So there you go, the 10 things to avoid if you want to cut down on braking. But why this obsession with braking less, though? Well, less braking means more efficiency, and not only from a fuel economy point of view. You end up with better use of your time, resources (to start with, brake pads), and infrastructure. And when everyone is moving smoothly along (even if it is at lower speeds), it will eventually improve physical well-being, too. And good behaviour begets good behaviour. Call it “carma” if you like.