Last year, during a product launch, ride and drive tour "Spring Training" for dealership personnel across the country, the participants in one segment of the training activities were asked to evaluate and compare the two separate brand vehicles, both comparably equipped. The dealership principals, sales staff and some service personnel were given a "chalk talk" and explained the things to watch for; "handling", ride, ease and responsiveness of steering, balance, stability and particularly the ABS braking.

The driving course was set up as a chalk lined, orange coned test course with a series of tight maneuvers and surface irregularities simulating highway emergency maneuvers and poor traction conditions (wet, wheel hop). On courses like this, drivers can readily evaluate the "feel", the comfort and security, of the car within a quarter mile drive, even given wide variables in driver style and skill. Test drivers. Better than 2/3 (est.) of the folks in the group raised their hand when asked who thought they were a good driver (some thought it was a "trick question").

Of particular note was the "chalk talk" orientation, description and explanation of ABS;

1) how the system works, that the ABS will not operate until a given amount of wheel slip (impending skidding) takes place.

2) how this is different from conventional braking in mechanism and technique, why "pumping" the brakes is ineffective, how friction and heating the tire can create adhesion (the tire sticking to the surface rather than rubbing across it), and how a (1) skid abrades granular rubber from the tire creating "rubber rollers" under the tire, or (2) melts the rubber, providing a liquid rubber lubricant under the tire. The analogy was the rubber is like grandma’s fudge; at room temperature (?) fairly solid, warm it up (?) sticky (adhesive), enough heat (?) melted.

3) the object of all emergency braking is to apply the brakes in a manner that the tire rolls across the pavement at a speed slower than the pavement is going by, using the complete circumference of the tire, "maximizing "grip". Also, the tire can only steer the car if it is rolling, lateral thrust can create more slip, but the ABS adjusts braking according to slip rates, not necessarily to the drivers intentions or expectations.

4) in the ABS system, electronic sensors monitor wheel slip and adjust braking to maintain slip at a pre engineered optimum level once slip is initiated until pedal pressure is released or the vehicle stops.

5) It all came down to "STOMP, STAY AND STEER" the terminology used by the ABS Education Alliance to describe the technique. The participants were warned, "this is to simulate emergencies", "No Whimpy Braking", "hitting the cones out there on the course, on any other road would be a crash; orphans and puppies, you have to do your best to do whatever you can to miss whatever gets in the way."

6) To use the brakes each driver was to perform, on command, a full stop in a straight line and a full stop while turning in each car, A/B, back to back comparison between vehicles. Acceleration length limited the vehicles to a consistent approach speed of less then 40 mph before the braking command, some maneuvers on the course, required more than 1/2 turn of the steering wheel and speeds of less than 15 mph. Commentary coaching continuous.

Also explained was that:

1) “you swing a baseball bat with two hands, you need two hands to steer effectively”

2) steering technique effects both effective maneuvering but crossing the center of the wheel presents a brutal physical hazard on airbag deployment, the safety feature becomes the danger with poor steering technique.

3) “you wouldn’t put your hand across the barrel of a loaded gun” and how crossing the center of the wheel puts your arms and hands in a weak and vulnerable position, possibly locked “like a pretzel”. “Your airbag won’t go off unless your car is getting shorter”

4) British drivers are taught “Push-Pull” or shuffle steering, evaluated on it and have fewer air bag related injuries. American drivers think it’s “clumsy” or “a hassle”. American drivers weren’t required to learn it at an early age, when the incentive to learn could be to pass a more fully evaluative test.

Some people hit cones. These were explained as purposeful, meaningful, very inexpensive crashes. The drivers compared the cars and profited from the experience for their sales pitches on the showroom floor.

The challenge of performance – “Handling” as a noun is what the car can do, as a verb it is what the driver can do to make it work.

These subjects/drivers unknowingly participated in an informal, blind tally of their braking and steering abilities. Given; the “chalk talk” orientation they had received, and that these were all “automotive professionals” they all raised their hands and confirmed that they knew the expectations. No evaluation was done to see how many of the participants had done this type of program previously. Instructors continuously coached the drivers as they drove the length of the course.

ABS – Of 147 drivers, 62 did not engage the ABS on the first try, extending the braking distance beyond the ABS potential. 42% crash potential first try. By the fourth try only 12 did not. Some quick commentary from the drivers; (a) blamed the car (one brand more than the other), (b) that they didn’t want to hurt the car (as if a crash wouldn’t), (c) some drivers pumped the brakes (d) most braked as hard as they thought necessary, less than effective.

Steering – (several types of curves, different radii and swerve maneuvers, across varying frequency and size bumps and wetness) Of 143 drivers, 3 used push-pull, shuffle steering (all three were trained, during their teens in the U.K.), 78 used either one hand or “pretzel steering” (palming the wheel or locking crossed arms), 140 used hand over hand, 21 used underhand steering (reaching across to pull down the inside of the wheel on the opposite side), some used combinations.



Out of 286 runs through the course, knocked-down-cones represented 97 separate crashes, the majority due to the inability to ABS brake-and-turn effectively and simultaneously. Many drivers didn’t turn the steering wheel enough to negotiate tight turns due to hand position and difficulty to manipulate. Many entered maneuvers with more momentum than the tires could influence or off-balanced cars, sabotaging the handling. Most drivers felt they would do better with practice, the majority of hit cones (74) were hit on the drivers’ first runs. Learning what you can’t do can be motivation to improve. Of those who mishandled the car, most rationalized it was due to the car’s inability.


Conclusions, Hunches

1. Safety and technological features may have no influence on performance preparedness for these test situations and may have less effectiveness in more threatening, hazardous situations.

2. These drivers, automotive dealership personnel, sell the safety benefits of the product but may not be able to access or utilize (or evaluate) the crash avoidance benefits and demonstrate inabilities that may be generalized to the public.

3. Multiple, simulated attempts (which are not available in sudden emergency situations) improved both the understanding of the systems and the use of the system improving personal performance within the capabilities of the vehicle(s).

Bob Green can be contacted at


Bob Green, Instructor/Trainer survivethedrive