Google the phrase “panic stops” and up pops a short list of suggestions. One is “kissing stops panic attacks.” That may be, but it’s not what I mean today. Panic stops are when you are driving then suddenly the car in front of you brakes hard for seemingly no reason. It happens when, of course, you least expect it – a big rig up ahead has spilled its load, or a distracted driver swerves into the lane ahead of you, creating chaos for other drivers. Or maybe a herd of deer crosses the Mount Baker Highway as you’re leaving Bellingham for a hike in the woods. Here’s what to do so you can avoid kissing the car in front of you with your own.


First of all, let me make one more plug for the 3-second rule. If you are following the car in front of you too closely, you are breaking the law, and you are risking a bad rear-end collision. You won’t get there any faster if you speed or tailgate, so please maintain a safe following distance. This gives you more time to make a panic stop.


But if the car ahead of you comes to a sudden stop in the middle of a highway or any Bellingham or Whatcom County road, do you know what to do? It’s pretty simple: stomp on your brake. I mean, really stomp on it, like you are dancing to Polecat, one of Bellingham’s popular stomp and bluegrass bands. Do not let up on the brake until you come to a complete stop.


The trick to handling a panic stop is, like so many things, practice. Because you want your stopping ability to be as fast as any reflex, you must practice it. Then you’ll learn to handle the strange noises the car might make as it screetches to a halt, or the pulsating brake pedal under your foot. Keep pressing the brake pedal as hard as you can, and let the ABS do its job. Give yourself about half a dozen rounds of this, and you’ll most likely be able to come to a hard stop in almost any circumstance (unless you are driving drunk or distracted, which you should never, ever do.)


Before you take it out to an empty parking lot to practice, learn if your older-model car has ABS. To do so, watch the dashboard’s warning lights when you turn on the engine for one that lights up “ABS”.


Last word about panic stops: if the situation ahead of  you requires emergency braking, don’t worry about the car behind you. Generally, you are the one risking a lawsuit if your car hits the one in front. If you’re hit from behind, let that driver get the ticket, and make sure you get the medical attention you need right away.



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