Last Updated on January 6, 2020
When you were learning to drive, your parent or driving instructor probably told you to only use one foot between the brake and gas pedals.
Back then, chances are good that most vehicles you saw came with a three-pedal manual transmission (which is why it was known as a “standard transmission” back in the day). When driving a stick shift, using both feet was necessary.
But does the rule of using only one foot between the gas and brake pedals still apply now that the vast majority of our vehicles have automatic transmissions?
The Case For Two Feet
#1 – Reaction Time
If I hold one foot over the brake while I’m driving, I can instantly depress the brake pedal in case of a sudden obstruction ahead.
This reduces the amount of time it takes between when I see a hazard and when I am able to slow the car, thus reducing my braking distance.
#2 – Accidentally Hitting the Gas
Additionally, I no longer have to worry about hitting the gas instead of the brake by mistake. My legs are naturally aligned with the pedals so there is little risk of my braking foot accidentally hitting the gas pedal; my right foot is now in the way.
If you follow the news, you’ve likely seen stories about vehicles that end up crashing through the front windows of convenience stores, restaurants, or other storefronts.
According to a study by Media Advisory, in 34% of these cases, it is due to pedal error where the driver (usually elderly) intends to step on the brake pedal but instead steps on the accelerator or their foot slips from the edge of the brake pedal onto the gas pedal.
Because the first thing the car will hit is either the wheel stop or curb, that sudden jolt will cause the driver’s foot to then be pushed harder into the gas pedal. While no data is provided, it’s more likely the majority of these drivers are one-footed drivers who simply had a moment of confusion and pressed the wrong pedal.
#3 – Keeping the Turbo Spooled
Fun fact: Racers who drive older rally cars use left foot braking to keep the turbocharger spooled while they are braking for a corner.
In theory, drivers of some turbocharged vehicles on race tracks could enter and exit corners at faster speeds by using some throttle while braking. Using both pedals at the same time actually them to do some of the steering with their feet.
But for practical purposes, this would have almost no benefit to normal drivers on today’s roads and as you’ll see below, pressing both the brake and gas pedal at the same time can have some unintended consequences.
Driving with both feet seems to make sense, doesn’t it? If I have two feet and two pedals, there is a 1:1 relationship between them. While this seems great on paper, it doesn’t quite pan out in practice.
Is driving with two feet illegal? In most places it’s not, but it is still ill-advised.
When it comes to driving, everybody has their preferred way of getting around in the safest, most efficient way possible. If you are dead set on using both feet to drive your car, there is little I can say to dissuade you… but I will give it my best shot anyway.
The Case for One Foot
#1 – The Dead Pedal
When I went through driver’s education, my instructor taught me to keep my left foot on the dead pedal. For those who don’t know, a dead pedal is a stationary pedal on the leftmost side of the floor. It’s not attached to any mechanical components; its sole purpose is to stabilize the driver.
I didn’t quite understand this until I started learning high performance driving.
Your legs contain some of the strongest muscles in your body and are designed from the ground up to support your weight. If I try to brake or corner hard without my left leg pushing firmly into the dead pedal, I will slide around in my seat.
Sliding around in your seat makes it more difficult to operate the controls smoothly. If you’re not driving smoothly, the likelihood that you will lose control of the vehicle increases.
Not planting your left foot on the dead pedal will eventually lead to driver fatigue since weaker muscles are then required to compensate for your legs to keep you from flying all over the inside of the car like a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man.
If you brake with your left foot, your foot either has to travel farther from the dead pedal to the brake or hover over the brake pedal.
The former increases the time it takes to apply the brakes from the moment you spot a hazard and begin to react, since the dead pedal is farther from the brake than the brake is from the gas.
The latter increases fatigue, as your shin or hip flexor muscles would be partially contracted for extended periods of time.
#2 – Reduced Fuel Economy, Increased Brake Wear
If you get tired from hovering over the brake, you may end up resting your foot on the brake pedal. Doing so (even gently) would apply slight brake pressure, which would heat up the brakes, cause the pads to wear out faster, and possibly warp the brake rotors.
This will also reduce fuel economy and put more strain on the engine, as it has to work harder to overcome the drag from the brakes. This is known as riding the brake and you’ve probably noticed other drivers doing it where their brake lights on always on, even while accelerating.
If you’re always applying some pressure to your brake pedal, your wallet will start to notice.
#3 – Sudden Unintended Deceleration
You may have heard of recalls on certain automobiles referring to “sudden unintended acceleration”.
This can happen for a variety of reasons: a floor mat got wedged under the gas pedal, the throttle position sensor failed (causing the car to think the driver was asking for 100% throttle), or there was a malfunction in the engine computer’s programming.
What happens on a modern car when you press the brake and accelerator at the same time? No, sadly your car does not take a screenshot.
To combat unintended acceleration, many manufacturers have added programming as a safety measure that causes the vehicle to come to a stop when the brake and accelerator are pressed at the same time. This ensures the driver is still able to stop even if the throttle is wide open when brakes are applied.
If you accidentally rest your foot on the brake while you’re giving the car gas, the vehicle could come to an abrupt stop and cause an accident.
The exact brake threshold required to trigger this function differs from vehicle to vehicle as it depends on the manufacturer’s programming, but it’s not something I would personally take a chance with.
Your owner’s manual may contain more specific information if this feature is present on your vehicle.
Though I’m not a professional driver, I’ve dedicated a lot of time and energy to improving my driving skills. Cars are a big part of my life, and I care a lot about educating others about safe driving practices.
Many of the techniques I’ve picked up are applicable in a wide array of situations, both on the track and the public road. While it may be possible to safely use two feet to drive an automatic, I don’t think the risks outweigh the rewards.
If you know a left foot braker and found this article helpful, please share it with them. Together we can make the road a safer place.