Many drivers can recall a near miss saved by the quick application of brakes, while a smaller number remembers pounding the brake pedal too late and crashing. What does this subset have in common? Significant numbers of them will blame their accidents on brake failure. Most of them will be wrong.

The reality is drivers judge distances poorly, especially when traveling at freeway speeds. Typically, they have no idea how their brakes behave in critical situations and consequently believe crashes result from mechanical malfunction, when in truth their brakes performed as designed, but their following distances were too short for their speeds. The standardization of electronically controlled antilock braking systems (ABS), which prevent wheel lockup and skidding during heavy braking, has compounded the problem because ABS can make strange grinding noises when it activates, leading untutored drivers to suspect braking issues. When coupled with a human tendency to avoid blame, brake failure becomes the commonplace excuse for many crashes.

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