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Using Air Brakes

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Normal Stops

Push the brake pedal down. Control the pressure so the vehicle comes to a smooth, safe stop. If you have a manual transmission, don’t push the clutch in until the engine rpm is down close to idle. When stopped, select a starting gear.

Braking with Antilock Brakes

When you brake hard on slippery surfaces in a vehicle without ABS, your wheels may lock up. When your steering wheels lock up, you lose steering control. When your other wheels lock up, you may skid, jackknife, or even spin the vehicle.

ABS helps you avoid wheel lock up. The computer senses impending lockup, reduces the braking pressure to a safe level, and you maintain control.

You may or may not be able to stop faster with ABS, but you should be able to steer around an obstacle while braking, and avoid skids caused by over braking.

Having ABS on only the tractor, only the trailer, or even on only one axle, still gives you more control over the vehicle during braking. Brake normally.

When only the tractor has ABS, you should be able to maintain steering control, and there is less chance of jackknifing. But, keep your eye on the trailer and let up on the brakes (if you can safely do so) if it begins to swing out.

When only the trailer has ABS, the trailer is less likely to swing out, but if you lose steering control or start a tractor jackknife, let up on the brakes (if you can safely do so) until you gain control.

When you drive a tractor-trailer combination with ABS, you should brake as you always have. In other words:

  • Use only the braking force necessary to stop safely and stay in control.
  • Brake the same way, regardless of whether you have ABS on the tractor, the trailer, or both.
  • As you slow down, monitor your tractor and trailer and back off the brakes (if it is safe to do so) to stay in control.

There is only one exception to this procedure, if you always drive a straight truck or combination with working ABS on all axles, in an emergency stop, you can fully apply the brakes.

Without ABS, you still have normal brake functions. Drive and brake as you always have.

Remember, if your ABS malfunctions, you still have regular brakes. Drive normally, but get the system serviced soon.

Emergency Stops

If somebody suddenly pulls out in front of you, your natural response is to hit the brakes. This is a good response if there’s enough distance to stop, and you use the brakes correctly.

You should brake in a way that will keep your vehicle in a straight line and allow you to turn if it becomes necessary. You can use the “controlled braking” method or the “stab braking” method.

Controlled Braking. With this method, you apply the brakes as hard as you can without locking the wheels. Keep steering wheel movements very small while doing this. If you need to make a larger steering adjustment or if the wheels lock, release the brakes. Re-apply the brakes as soon as you can.

Stab Braking. Apply your brakes all the way. Release brakes when wheels lock up. As soon as the wheels start rolling, apply the brakes fully again. (It can take up to one second for the wheels to start rolling after you release the brakes. If you re-apply the brakes before the wheels start rolling, the vehicle won’t straighten out.)

Stopping Distance

Stopping distance was described in Driving Safety under “Speed and Stopping Distance.” With air brakes there is an added delay – “Brake Lag”. This is the time required for the brakes to work after the brake pedal is pushed. With hydraulic brakes (used on cars and light/medium trucks), the brakes work instantly. However, with air brakes, it takes a little time (one half second or more) for the air to flow through the lines to the brakes. Thus, the total stopping distance for vehicles with air brake systems is made up of four different factors.

Perception Distance + Reaction Distance + Brake Lag Distance + Braking Distance = Total Stopping Distance

The air brake lag distance at 55 mph on dry pavement adds about 32 feet. So at 55 mph for an average driver under good traction and brake conditions, the total stopping distance is over 450 feet. See Figure 5.6.

Brake Fading or Failure

Brakes are designed so brake shoes or pads rub against the brake drum or disks to slow the vehicle. Braking creates heat, but brakes are designed to take a lot of heat. However, brakes can fade or fail from excessive heat caused by using them too much and not relying on the engine braking effect.

Excessive use of the service brakes results in overheating and leads to brake fade. Brake fade results from excessive heat causing chemical changes in the brake lining, which reduce friction, and also causing expansion of the brake drums. As the overheated drums expand, the brake shoes and linings have to move farther to contact the drums, and the force of this contact is reduced. Continued overuse may increase brake fade until the vehicle cannot be slowed down or stopped.

Brake fade is also affected by adjustment. To safely control a vehicle, every brake must do its share of the work. Brakes out of adjustment will stop doing their share before those that are in adjustment. The other brakes can then overheat and fade, and there will not be enough braking available to control the vehicle(s). Brakes can get out of adjustment quickly, especially when they are hot. Therefore, check brake adjustment often.

Proper Braking Technique

Remember. The use of brakes on a long and/or steep downgrade is only a supplement to the braking effect of the engine. Once the vehicle is in the proper low gear, the following is the proper braking technique:

  • Apply the brakes just hard enough to feel a definite slowdown.
  • When your speed has been reduced to approximately five mph below your “safe” speed, release the brakes. (This application should last for about three seconds.)
  • When your speed has increased to your “safe” speed, repeat steps 1 and 2.

For example, if your “safe” speed is 40 mph, you would not apply the brakes until your speed reaches 40 mph. You now apply the brakes hard enough to gradually reduce your speed to 35 mph and then release the brakes. Repeat this as often as necessary until you have reached the end of the downgrade.

Low Air Pressure

If the low air pressure warning comes on, stop and safely park your vehicle as soon as possible. There might be an air leak in the system. Controlled braking is possible only while enough air remains in the air tanks. The spring brakes will come on when the air pressure drops into the range of 20 to 45 psi. A heavily loaded vehicle will take a long distance to stop because the spring brakes do not work on all axles. Lightly loaded vehicles or vehicles on slippery roads may skid out of control when the spring brakes come on. It is much safer to stop while there is enough air in the tanks to use the foot brakes.

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Parking Brakes

Any time you park, use the parking brakes, except as noted below. Pull the parking brake control knob out to apply the parking brakes, push it in to release. The control will be a yellow, diamond-shaped knob labeled “parking brakes” on newer vehicles. On older vehicles, it may be a round blue knob or some other shape (including a lever that swings from side to side or up and down).

Don’t use the parking brakes if the brakes are very hot (from just having come down a steep grade), or if the brakes are very wet in freezing temperatures. If they are used while they are very hot, they can be damaged by the heat. If they are used in freezing temperatures when the brakes are very wet, they can freeze so the vehicle cannot move. Use wheel chocks on a level surface to hold the vehicle. Let hot brakes cool before using the parking brakes. If the brakes are wet, use the brakes lightly while driving in a low gear to heat and dry them.

If your vehicle does not have automatic air tank drains, drain your air tanks at the end of each working day to remove moisture and oil. Otherwise, the brakes could fail.

Never leave your vehicle unattended without applying the parking brakes or chocking the wheels. Your vehicle might roll away and cause injury and damage.

Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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