The emergency stop has long been a part of the driving test. At one time, every candidate had to perform one, but since 1999 this has dropped to just one in three. Unfortunately, they’re chosen at random, so you won’t know in advance whether or not you’ll have to pull up in a hurry.
The idea of the emergency stop is that you’re demonstrating how fast your reaction times are, so you can pull up your car in the shortest possible distance while retaining control of the car and not causing any danger to yourself or other road users.
How it works
Throughout your test your examiner will ask you to stop in various places to speak to you, or to prepare you to make a manoeuvre. When he asks you to stop he’ll make sure it’s safe and legal and you’ll need to come to a halt progressively.
At some point though, he may ask you to stop as though there’s an emergency. Your examiner will make it clear what signal he’ll give for you to stop quickly; it’s likely to be a raised right hand with an audible instruction to stop. He won’t try to catch you out, so he’ll have already made sure there’s nobody sitting inches from your back bumper, and you won’t be asked to perform the task in a busy high street.
Once you know this task is coming you might feel a bit nervous, but having been given a warning, just make sure you remain aware of what’s going on around you so you’re confident that your emergency stop won’t spook anybody who may be near.
Once the signal has been given, take your right foot off the accelerator and brake sharply, but without going crazy. The car’s anti-lock technology will prevent any skids, but you don’t want to be standing on the middle pedal with your entire body weight.
Throughout the process, hold the steering wheel with both hands so you don’t lose control of the car, and don’t press the clutch until you’ve come almost to a stop.
Once you’ve stopped, with the clutch and brake pedals depressed apply the handbrake and move the gear lever into neutral. When the examiner tells you to, drive on having checked your mirrors and looked over your shoulder before pulling out.
What if I skid?
In the unlikely event that your car doesn’t have anti-lock brakes (they’ve been mandatory on all new cars sold in the EU since 2007, but have been common since long before then), you’ll need to make sure your car doesn’t skid.
In the dry you should be able to brake very sharply without the wheels locking up leading to a loss of steering control. In the wet though, it’s very easy to skid, especially if the road surface is slippery.
If the car does start to skid, just ease off the brake a bit until you regain traction, so you can get back your steering control. Whatever you do, don’t just keep your brake pedal planted to the floor, so you skid to a halt; that’ll show you’ve panicked, which won’t go down too well…