Try to Avoid Braking Altogether

19 Mar , 2016  

– Tony Schaefer

If you read my article on braking, you know that the best way to make an anticipated stop is to use a long, slow brake that engages active regeneration. If you haven’t read that one yet, spoilers!

As you become more advanced in your hypermiling, you’re going to want to eliminate braking as much as possible. Let’s return to the situation in which your buddy ran out of gas and you have to push his car. The hardest part is just getting that damn thing to start rolling from a dead stop. This is the most energy-intense part of driving and that’s why we will try to eliminate it as much as possible.

How energy intense? Here’s a visualization to consider. Every time you apply your brakes, throw a dime out your window. It’s gone, never to return. Every time you come to a complete stop, toss a quarter. Since it is easier to monitor things that are being recorded, consider keeping track of how many dimes and quarters you lose during your regular commute.

Most people know how to ride a bicycle.  Most bicycle riders understand that they would rather coast than brake.  They would rather maintain some level of momentum than to put their foot down and then start up from a dead stop.  Unfortunately, most bike riders forget all that stuff when they are driving.  This is because when you’re riding a bike, you are the sole source of energy and you fully understand how hard it is to get back up to speed.  Compare that to driving a car where your effort is limited to merely pressing your foot on a pedal.  You have no idea how hard the car is working to get back up to speed.  You simply lose track.  The following tips should be read as “your driving your car” but think of them in terms of “your riding your bike”.

(As always, the following is going to assume a safe driving situation in which you are not annoying other drivers)

We’ll start with the easiest possible scenario:

Red Lights

You are driving along and notice the stoplight in front of you is red. The typical thing to do is maintain speed, pray for the light to change, and smash on the brakes when it doesn’t. But you’re not typical. Here’s what you do.

  1. Consider how long the light has already been red, if you happen to know.
  2. Count the number of cars waiting in line or racing towards the light.
  3. Do some math.

If the light has been red for a while – and if you are familiar with the light – you might be able to estimate how long before it will change from red to green. If possible, take a count of the cars waiting in line or forming the line. When the light changes to green, the first car will move, then the second, then the third, and so on. Personally, I estimate about 2 seconds for each car. From there it is simply a matter of math.

(remaining red light time) + (number of cars * 2) = seconds until the car in front of you starts moving

So if there were about thirty seconds of red light remaining and 5 cars in line, then I would estimate that if you start approaching the car in front of you in about 40 seconds, there is a greatly reduced chance you would need to come to a complete stop. It should be obvious that this requires quite a bit of forethought and anticipation.

Warning: The teenager in the third car took the opportunity to update her Facebook status and check a few notifications before texting her BFF and snapping a selfie. This is why the cars in the back of the line aren’t moving. Always hover your foot over the brake even if you hope to not need it. Always be safe and prepared.

The opportunity to not brake is the best-case scenario but this is not always the case. Sometimes, you just have to use the brakes and slow down. No problem, but the goal is to not come to a complete stop. It’s even better if you slow down as little as possible. So let’s talk about slow-down situations.


Almost every day I notice people maintaining full speed until they slam on their brakes and make a right turn (blinker optional). Unless the right turn was a surprise because they are from out of town and couldn’t see the street sign, they knew they were going to turn. They simply chose to do it in the most inefficient manner possible.

If you know you are going to make a turn, put on your signal and start coasting. Grab some regenerative braking as you approach a manageable speed and navigate the turn. If the conditions are dry and clear and you are comfortable with it, consider not braking at all. Here is what works for me: I can comfortably and controllably make a 90 degree right turn at 25 MPH and a left turn at 30. Never attempt the no-brake turn on wet or undetermined roads. Always maintain control of your vehicle.

Assuming you drive the same route to and from work five days a week, 48-ish weeks per year, you know where the turns are for other companies as well as your own.  You are smart; everyone else is not.  Admit it, you see it every day: a car is zipping down the road, faster than the posted speed limit.  Then, out of nowhere and without warning, they slam on their brakes.  You can almost hear them say faintly, “oh yeah, I work here.  After making this turn every weekday for the last seven years, I keep forgetting where the turn is.”  It’s infuriating!  Like I said, you are smart and you take mental notes.  If you drive past several other turn-offs – like I do – you know that it’s best to hang back just a bit and always anticipate that the car in front is going to pull an “oh yeah!” moment.  Hope for the best while anticipating the worse.  Speaking of anticipation…

Anticipated Driving Situations

Fast Food Row

On my daily commute, there is a stretch of road that lasts about a half mile and contains several fast food eateries. They are all on the right side of the multilane street. As a result, in the evenings, the right lane is a herky-jerky mess of people stopping to get dinner or pulling into traffic with dinner. In order to maintain a consistent driving speed, the best course of action is to get in the left lane and stay there until I have passed Fast Food Row. Maybe you don’t have a Fast Food Row but you have something. There is almost always something that causes one lane or the other to become congested. They key here is to know it’s coming and work around it as best as possible.


In the mornings, I am sometimes behind school buses. When they stop to pick up kids, they tend to sit for a while and there is little you can do. However, when they stop at railroad tracks, it is often only for a few seconds and then they move on again. If you see a school bus in front of you and you know there railroad tracks ahead, start dropping back. This will create a trailing buffer you will need when the bus stops. If you get it right, it’s like the stoplight in which you won’t need to brake at all.

People who have no idea how to use turn signal indicators

I say it over and over: you need to be intimately familiar with your everyday commute. For example, there is a right turn that leads to a school. The school is not immediately after the turn; in fact, it’s about a mile down the street. But there is a high probability every school morning that someone will be turning right whether they signal or not. Many times, they don’t and the people behind them assume they are going straight (safe assumption but not so safe driving). The end result is screeching tires when the right turner slams on their brakes.

Timed Stop Lights

There will be times when you are traveling between two or more stoplights. If they are timed, you should be able to figure out whether or not you can make it from one light to the other. Sometimes, you need to drive a little faster than you would like to make it through the second light. There’s always the decision between driving fast or stopping and starting. After a few different attempts, you should know how to drive between them to achieve the highest efficiency.

In the end, when it comes to anticipated driving situations, you have to be familiar with your drive and constantly remind yourself, “here is where this typically happens” or “this is what I did the last time and it worked pretty well.”


The absolutely worst thing in terms of hypermiling is getting your car moving from a dead stop.  You should strive to maintain at least some movement at all times.  Best case is to anticipate what’s coming and not even touch your brakes.  If that’s not possible, anticipate as much as possible and brake as little as possible.  It all comes down to anticipation.  When driving your car, think about how you would handle the situation if you were on a bicycle: would you really keep accelerating towards a red light?  would you maintain speed right up to the turn?  how would you monitor the traffic patterns to avoid braking?


Table of Contents

, , , , , , , , , ,