Why do we only use one foot to drive a car?

If the brake pedal is on the left in our cars — spoiler alert: it is — then why do we brake with our right foot?

It’s the way we were taught, of course. We have two feet, but we can only use one of them when driving a car. That’s just the way it is. End of story.

But it shouldn’t be, an engineer says. Fargo Forum’s Robin Huebner messes with the way things have always been in presenting us with Trevor Frith, a retired mechanical engineer who says that a lot of accidents could be avoided if we used our left foot for braking.

[Trevor] Frith said right-foot braking is a holdover from when all cars had manual transmissions. Now, when a majority drive vehicles with automatic transmissions, he thinks people simply don’t want to change because that’s how it’s always been done.

In fact, when asked why driving instructors teach right-foot braking, an official with the North Dakota Department of Transportation said, “That’s how it’s been taught.”

Public information officer Jamie Olson went on to say, however, that there are additional risks when people drive with both feet at the same time.

If a driver is stopped with one foot on the brake and the other on the gas and the vehicle is rear-ended, the car could accelerate into the intersection, Olson said. She also said people who drive with both feet tend to “ride” the brake more, which can cause a miscommunication to the driver behind.

“There’s no evidence or statistics that say left-footed braking is safer,” Olson said.

But maybe one of the reasons for that is nobody drives with their left foot.

It takes about a second to move your foot off the accelerator and onto the brake pedal, according to Frith.

“You lose three-quarters of a second,” Frith said. “By then, the vehicle has gone another 30 to 40 feet.”

His website, Left Foot Braking Method, calls for a scientific study of a left-foot braking method.

  • Kassie

    I do drive with two feet. One working the clutch and one working the gas and brake.

    • jon

      Same with my car.

      On the motorcycle it’s the rear brake and the gear shifter…

    • LilAsil

      I miss my old stick-shift truck and hope to find one for my next vehicle purchase!

    • CHS

      I’m with Kassie. Considering a manual requires using the right foot on the brake, I won’t be changing, ever.

    • kat

      Yes! I just got a manual after a few yrs without- never going back. Also, I am convinced half of our distracted driver problems would be solved by everyone just driving a manual transmission- hands are not free to grab the phone etc all the time. Most of the time we don’t need faster braking time, but less distracted time.

      • Kassie

        Well, to be honest, in college I had perfected smoking with my left hand, drinking coffee with my right hand and shifting and driving. And until a couple years ago, I would text and drive my manual transmission car. Once you are good at it, it doesn’t cut down on other distractions.

        • Rob

          Tell me you’ve never had a crash.

          • Kassie

            I’ve had two. Recently I was hit by a car taking a right turn from the lane to the left of me when I was going straight. Hit and run. Sucked. The other I was lost in Rochester NY and at a confusing 5 road intersection I hit someone taking a left turn. Both times I was concentrating on driving.

    • Rob

      Which feet operate which controls?

      • Tyler

        I can’t wait for THIS answer.

  • MrE85

    Wait, you are supposed to use your feet?!? This changes everything!

    • jon

      Use them on the pedals!
      Please don’t try to steer with just your right foot!

      • X.A. Smith

        I steer with my knees.

        • Rob

          Makes sense. How else would you be able to eat fried chicken while driving?

  • jon

    Reasons to only use one foot:
    Using two feet will lead to people resting their foot on the brake pedal, which will lead riding the brakes which leads to premature brake failure, and excessive brake lights in traffic.
    It’s the same reason you take your foot off the clutch and put it on the foot rest ot the left of the clutch when not pressing the clutch down.

    Reasons to use two feet:
    Faster response time.

    I’ve seen rally cars doing the left foot brake thing (even in some manual transmissions), because reaction time is key when racing, but if your reaction time needs to be faster when driving on roads you are following to close and not looking farth enough ahead…

    • jon

      should add that if you don’t leave your left foot on the brake then you don’t get the benefits of increased reaction time.

      It’s a trade off between reaction time or paying for a brake job every 10-20k miles… (like certain family members of mine do because they constantly ride the brake with their left foot… other family members have gone 100k miles between brake jobs, I’m getting about 60-80k myself)

    • // which will lead riding the brakes which leads to premature brake failure, and excessive brake lights in traffic.

      Check his website. He lists several “myths”. that’s one of them, he says.

      • X.A. Smith

        Not a myth. I used to drive full-time, and there are people who do that. It is insufferable.

      • jon

        You’ll forgive me for not believing that it’s a myth just because his website says “No scientific records exist to back up this assertion”

        There is a risk with left foot braking of riding your brakes that doesn’t exist with right foot braking…

        Most of what I’m reading now suggests left foot braking at low speeds (which mitigates the risk of wearing out your brakes because low speed brake riding isn’t nearly as much wear as high speed brake riding) as a way to simulate what manual transmission drivers do when they cover the clutch to disconnect power in the event of the need to stop quickly…

        That makes some sense.

        But the left foot braking web page is talking about distances traveled at highway speeds for reaction times… which doesn’t make sense, at highway speeds you should have a clear enough line of sight to see what is coming up, you should leave enough of a safety margin to stop, and if you leave your left foot over the brake driving on the highway you will get lazy over time and odds of you riding the brakes at 70mph increase the longer you are cruising down the highway.

        Riding your brakes at highspeeds leads to the pads and rotors heating up and can actually lead to a point where your brakes are not effective to top because they are too hot to function properly… it can lead to warped rotors if you hit a puddle and water hits those hot rotors.

        The potential for damage at highway speeds is high and the benefits can be achieved through proper driving techique.

        • X.A. Smith

          And, it turns off your cruise control.

          • jon

            I’m either old enough or grew up poor enough that I recall a time before cruise control was ubiquitous…
            As such I rarely use it unless I’m going to be on the same highway for more than an hour or so.

    • Rob

      I totally agree, especially regarding following too closely. And making it legal to use the left foot for braking will only increase the prevalence of tailgating.

      • While unorthodox, I don’t believe it’s presently illegal to use a left foot for braking.

        • Rob

          Look into that. And my guess is that if you were in a crash, and it was determined that you were using left foot for braking, your insurance company would be very unhappy.

          • That might be, but that doesn’t make it illegal.

  • Matt Black

    I started using left foot braking when I was learning how to fly. I don’t use it all the time, but will occasionally. In addition to the faster response time, it also helped me get better rudder control in the airplane.

  • Tim

    Well, there’s also the minor detail that brake pedals aren’t on the left side of the compartment; they are closer to the right (because of that whole holdover from manuals thing).

  • Jerry

    Sorry, my left foot is already occupied playing air kick-drum.

    • X.A. Smith

      Left foot should be for the hi-hat, unless you’re a southpaw…

      • jon

        What he doesn’t say is that it’s a dual kick drum set and his speed varies with the beat.

        🙂

      • Jerry

        Who wants to play air hi-hat?

  • rallysocks

    What about us with two left feet?!

    • X.A. Smith

      Do you have to buy special rallysocks for that?

      • rallysocks

        Only if they are toe-socks.

    • Jerry

      If that is the case, I think I once accidently bought a pair of boots meant for you.

      • rallysocks

        oOOOH…different styles, even!

  • Jeff

    Um, the left foot is for the clutch…not sure how much longer this issue is going be relevant since we’ll have automatic (self) driving cars within 5-10 years.

    • Wait. We’re going to be required to buy self-driving cars?

      • Matthew

        Probably not directly, but I’d expect the insurance rates for human-drivable vehicles will go through the roof once self-driving vehicles have been generally accepted.

      • Jeff

        Eventually insurance costs will be so high that essentially yes, the only ones driving themselves will be the very, very rich…if they even bother with it. Think about it, as fewer and fewer people choose to drive themselves the price for insurance on those few people will exponentially increase…much easier to spread out the risk among an entire fleet of automatically driving cars.

        BTW, the same justification (if not an even stronger justification since you could effect others with your driving) for seatbelt laws would be used for automatic driving…considering the fact that driver error accounts for 90% of crashes:

        http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/blog/2013/12/human-error-cause-vehicle-crashes

        Driving yourself will be socially unacceptable like how we view drunken driving today.

        • Jack Ungerleider

          Since the discussion meandered into driverless cars you need to visit yesterday’s xkcd comic: http://xkcd.com/1720/

      • Jeff

        Here’s an interesting story, Ford Says It’ll Have a Fleet of Fully Autonomous Cars in Just 5 Years:

        https://www.wired.com/2016/08/ford-autonomous-vehicles-2021/?mbid=social_twitter

        It’s coming sooner than you think!

        • tboom

          I could point you at a Popular Mechanics story from the 1950’s or 60’s claiming flying cars were right around the corner, but I’m too lazy to actually find one. We all know how long it really took to perfect flying cars.

          • Jeff

            Were there actual working prototypes on normal roads back then? Because we have that now, how about this, if it’s 2025 and there are zero autonomous driving cars on US roads then I will apologize…if we have a selection of them available for purchase before 2025 then I would expect the same from you.

          • tboom

            Actually there are a couple of museum pieces still flying and driving around. As I recall converting road to air wasn’t and easy process, on the ground the wings were trailered, certainly not as quick as putting the top up on a convertible. Again, too lazy to search out the article, you’ll just have to trust me.

            I’m sure we will have self-drivers but I really doubt completely autonomous by 2025, that’s corporate sales/optimism (like electric vehicle ranges) and ignores human nature. However you can accept my apology now and forward it to 2025 in case we do have autonomous vehicles.

  • MarkUp

    I don’t think encouraging people to relearn how they use the pedals will make them more observant of cars and pedestrians; I surmise driver awareness is a larger determining factor than response time. The accident report would read: “Driver was overthinking what to do with his feet.”

    Still, get a group of learners and teach them that habit from the start. Frith would have an interesting study.

  • Jeff C.

    The left foot is for turning the high beams on and off.

    • CHS

      I totally forgot about that one! I wonder how many people here actually have had to use a foot switch for the high beams in their lives… I suspect most of the younger crowd wouldn’t even know they existed.

      • Jeff

        Yeah, I have no idea what you people are talking about…

    • Jerry

      I had a friend who used the floor switch to convince a passenger that his truck’s headlights were controlled by The Clapper.

      • rallysocks

        That is so awesome. Yes, I remember the first time I drove Mr. Sox’s car– I annoyed drivers no end because I could NOT find the foot switch for the life of me. Boy, I thought that Malibu was the height of technology!

      • kay smith

        That’s hilarious. When I was a kid, Dad used the floor switch when we said ‘blink, little light, blink’.

  • >>We have two feet, but we can only use one of them when driving a car. That’s just the way it is. End of story.<<

    I dare you to drive my car with only one foot.

    /Manual transmission or go home.

    • Rob

      Yes! And the day that Harley starts offering auto trans bikes will be a sad day, mos’ def.

  • jon

    Newscut crowd seems like a statistical anomaly…

    Edmunds says 7% of car sales are mannual transmissions, yet I see about 50% of the commentors on this article discussing the clutch in their car.

    Are stick shift drivers statistically more likely to read and comment on newscut? Does it apply to all of MPR?

    • Kassie

      Well, two of us on here do own the same car.

    • Barton

      Well, I am on my first automatic ever (not that long really, 30 years of driving), and as much as I like my Subaru, I wish I’d bought the manual version. I miss shifting – and the fake shifting they have (both on the steering wheel – like an F1 car – and on the gear “shift”) are just not the same as working the clutch.

      Heck, I still slam both my right foot on the brake and my left on the non-existent clutch when I need to stop in a great, unexpected hurry.

      • jon

        My drivers ed teacher spent a allot of time and effort telling me to stop tapping on the floor with my left foot and taking my right hand off the wheel… Wasn’t my fault her car ran on black magic and shifted on it’s own…

    • Jerry

      Manual drivers are like vegans: there may not be that many of them, but those that are will tell you about it.

      • tboom

        Which reminds me; after my first car, for the past 34 years give or take a couple months, I’ve never owned an automatic. … Just wanted to let you know. 🙂

        I do enjoy a good smoked beef brisket though.

    • John

      My last two vehicles (before my current) were manual. One was by choice, the other was driven by economics.

      I prefer the automatic. I’m getting lazy.

      Two years later, I still sometimes slam my left foot into nothing while looking for a clutch.

      • Kassie

        As long as I don’t have to be in bumper to bumper traffic, I prefer a manual. As soon as traffic gets heavy, I curse my stick shift.

        • John

          That’s pretty much what drove me away.

          Then I realized I can get 200K miles out of an automatic transmission, and also don’t get any better gas mileage from the manual, so I probably won’t go back unless I have a major mid life crisis and buy a convertible. I’d rather get a Volvo wagon though, so probably still gonna be an auto.

      • JamieHX

        I do the same thing after a couple years with my first-ever automatic. A few times I hit the brake with my left foot as though I was clutching while braking. It was shocking — my left foot was accustomed to applying a LOT of pressure on the clutch, much more than needed to brake.

        I had to switch to automatic because of a bum knee that was aggravated by using the clutch. I don’t really miss the clutch anymore.

    • Rob

      Dunno about any statistical correlations, but most of my cars/SUVs/trucks, including my current ride, have been manuals, as I prefer them to automatics.
      The bummer is wanting a certain model of car, like a Charger R/T, with a manual, and discovering that Dodge doesn’t produce any.

      • Angry Jonny

        I know, right?! I’ve been eyeing up Dodges as it comes time to replace my Nissan, but nothing except the Dart comes with a manual.

        • Rob

          Au contraire. From personal experience, I know the Challenger R/T does (at least up until 2014), and I think Challenger SRT and Hellcat versions do also…

    • Noelle

      It does seem a little statistically biased on NewsCut 😉

      We have 3 cars. All of them manual transmissions. We’ll drive stick until they stop making cars with it as an option (or when we can afford to buy an electric car).

  • Carol S.

    Way back in 1980-something, I had points taken off my behind the wheel test for using my left foot on the brake.

  • Ben Chorn

    One thing not mentioned is that only using one foot means you only use one pedal at a time. So, if someone rear-ends me I dont have to worry about my foot slipping off the brake and the one on the gas going down.

    Old people already have had times confusing brake and gas pedals (resulting in crashing into stopped cars or buildings), and now we are suppose to trust them with tow feet?

  • Angry Jonny

    I have a 1965 Ford Custom. Not a fancy classic, just a nice old car; somewhat daily driver during the summer (actually WAS my dd in the 90s for a while). It has a three on the tree AND a footswitch dimmer. I had a few too many beers at the watering hole one night, and my buddy agreed to drive home. We got into the car and the look on his face was something like being dropped in the middle of St. Petersburg without speaking a lick of Russian. We ended up making it home, but not before he probably smoked about 2,000 miles off my new clutch plate.

    I grew up on a farm, and before I hit double digit age, I knew how to drive our Ford 2-n, our Ferguson, and our John Deere 60. I think, especially in the case of the Deere, the concept of how to ease into motion is something that learning by hand-literally-helps a person to understand how to do it by foot. My first car was a 64 Ford with a 3 on the floor. I have owned 2 or 3 automatics in my time, but the level of control and specificity of gearing you get with a stick just can’t be beat.

    Our fire department has a 1932 Model A fire truck. You literally have to use all four appendages to start it; floor start, hand choke, manual throttle, and spark advance. Looks kinda like this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZRvMsVNHQY