Why NHTSA's Proposed Brake Override System Needs An On/Off Switch

When you're wildly stomping at the pedals of your car in a panic, there's really only one outcome you're looking for: Stop. That's why, for 99.9% of drivers and driving, the mandatory brake override system proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is a good idea.

But what about that other 0.1% of drivers?

Sure, there are times when you're in a panic and want to go quickly (zombie horde behind you, that train is coming much quicker than you thought, Community is about to start) but in general, if you've got both pedals mashed to the floor, research and common sense dictates that the brake should get priority.


The good news is these types of systems will be easy to implement — and at little to no addition of complexity to our sadly already overly-complex vehicles. With pretty much all new cars employing drive-by-wire systems, it's mostly a software change to let the car's brain know that if both pedals are being held down, cut the throttle and let the car stop. The pedal sensors and fundamental electronics are all already in place, for the most part.

Interestingly, the technology was pioneered by BMW for performance driving:

The technology was first used in the BMW 750 in the late 1980s as a performance enhancement for heel-and-toe race-style driving , in which a driver uses the heel and toe of one foot to control two pedals at the same time.

But that's not really where it's useful.

For almost all normal, day-to-day driving, there's really no reason not to have a brake override system. It can absolutely save lives (and, for car makers, reputations), and, implemented properly, will not impair the driving experience, allowing for brake-and-throttle applications such as hill starts, and off-road use.


Brake override systems are great. Put'em in in everything. On one condition:

Let us turn it off.


The turning off process doesn't have to be easy. In fact, feel free to make us jump through hoops and on-screen menus and waivers and whatever. Because the only people who need to turn it off are people looking to really race their cars, and they know what they're getting into. Make it hard enough so that regular drivers should never need to worry about it being on or off or even thinking about it at all.

But when you're racing, and want to heel-toe to blip the throttle, or trail-brake into a corner, or left-foot brake, you need to have full control of the car, which means turning brake override off. As one of Jalopnik's resident racers, Robb Holland told me,

"I want the throttle I want, not what the car wants to give me. It's better to get the car to a pure mechanical state than what the car's systems want to give me. In fact, if you can't get what you need, it could be more dangerous, since you can't get the throttle response you need. You don't want the car to outthink the driver."


Unless, of course, you're not racing. Even Robb agrees that "it makes sense for 99.9% of drivers."

So, NHTSA, go ahead and make everyone have brake override systems. Just give us an off switch.

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