By Art Meltzer

Most of us learned to drive on a car with an automatic transmission. We were taught to use our right foot to operate both the brake and gas pedals. Let’s call this one-foot driving (OFD). There is no role for your left foot in OFD. For those who learned to drive on a manual transmission your left foot was limited to operating the clutch pedal.

Probably the most important reason for the limited role of your left foot is safety. Using only your right foot for both the gas and brake minimizes the likelihood that you will step on the gas instead of the brake and vice-versa. Also, OFD rules out the possibility that you will simultaneously apply the gas and brake. Simultaneous application of the gas and brake will unnecessarily wear the brakes and may damage the torque converter in the transmission.

Let’s use the term left-foot braking (LFB) to refer to using your left foot to brake. This article will highlight the advantages of LFB over OFD and provide the reader with a mechanism to learn LFB.

High performance driver’s education (HPDE) is a sport. Sports generally require using both hands, both feet, and both eyes. In baseball we don’t bat with one eye closed. In football we don’t hop down the field for a pass on one leg. Doesn’t it seem odd that in HPDE we use both eyes to see, both hands on the steering wheel but drive with one foot?  Despite these comparisons, baseball and football are unlike HPDE – they’re sports that require only one ball.

The key issue with OFD is time that it takes time, at least 4-5 tenths of a second, to move from one pedal to the other. During the time that you’re switching pedals your car is coasting.  

At high speed (~120 mph) the car will travel about 17.6 ft in one tenth of a second meaning you will coast for about 70.4 – 88 ft in the time it takes to switch pedals. At 50 mph the car travel about 7.3 ft in a tenth of a second meaning it will coast for about 29 – 36.5 ft while switching pedals. When coasting you can’t accelerate, slow the car, or influence weight transfer – in other words you can’t control the car.

Sometimes, with OFD, when switching pedals your foot does not “find” the pedal that you’re switching to. This is most problematic when going from gas to brake as improper foot position on the brake pedal can impact upon your ability to slow the car.

LFB means you apply the brake pedal with your left foot whenever possible. In a car with a manual transmission LFB is possible only in braking situations in which you don’t change gears. With an automatic transmission or a PDK, you can LFB everywhere.

One advantage of LFB is that there is no time delay or coasting when switching inputs from the throttle to the brake or vice versa. Consider entering a heavy braking zone at high speed (say 120 mph). OFB will commit you to coming off the gas and coasting for 70.4 – 88 ft before slowing the car. Alternatively, LFB by eliminating coasting, will allow you to remain on the throttle until you reach the point that you want to apply the brakes.

When negotiating sections of linked turns your speed is generally 50-60 mph range. Control of weight transfer in linked turns is a fundamental element allowing you to control the car, maintain momentum, and accelerate upon exiting the section. Oftentimes one must use the gas, brake, or both in traversing a section of linked turns in order to maintain the proper line, preserve speed, and position the car to in order to accelerate when exiting the section.

At 50-60 mph OFD commits you to coast for 29 – 44 ft when switching pedals. While coasting the car slows (engine braking and friction), you can’t transfer weight to the front wheels, plant the rear end or keep the car balanced with brake/throttle inputs. Your ability to control the car and maintain speed thru linked turns is compromised. Alternatively, with LFB your brake/gas transitions are simultaneous giving you the maximum opportunity to attain minimum section times.

Many tracks have high speed turns that require a brush of the brakes while turning in to transfer weight to the front wheels. By eliminating coasting LFB allows you stay on the throttle longer prior to the turn and reapply the throttle sooner after the turn so that you negotiate the turn with maximum efficiency.

Learning to LFB is easier than you think but it requires commitment and practice. I recommend training your left foot (and your right brain) to do something new while driving on the street. At first you will have to think about using your left foot to brake. Your braking will be clumsy and fitful. Smoothness and efficiency will eventually come with practice. Ultimately, you will use your left foot without thinking – meaning you have reached the point where LFB is an unconscious act. At this point, you’re ready to try it on the track.

With some HPDE experience using LFB I’m confident you’ll achieve a significant improvement in your gas/brake pedal transitions and overall improvement in your driving.