When To Use Handbrake

The handbrake or parking brake as it is also referred to should be used at only certain occasions whilst learning to drive and during a driving test.

Situations such as parking the car up must have the handbrake applied once stopped, other situations such as general driving, use the handbrake as detailed below. Some learner drivers tend to over-use the handbrake during a driving test, even to the extent that they begin to apply it whilst the car is still moving.

This is obviously dangerous and easily fail a driving test, so try to be relaxed about the use of the handbrake. Detailed below is when the handbrake should be used during a driving test.

Using the handbrake when parking up

A driving test will involve the examiner asking you to park up on the left on more than one occasion. When you have stopped the car, apply the handbrake and select neutral.

General driving and the handbrake

Throughout a driving test there will be many occasions that the car will need to be stopped. For example this could be waiting behind other vehicles in traffic or stopping at a red light.

When to use handbrake
Try not to use the handbrake excessively during a driving test

The examiner will expect you to use the handbrake when stopping in such situations but try not desperately grab the handbrake the very moment you have stopped.

When you have come to a stop, wait 5 seconds or so and if it looks like you will remain stationary for a while, apply the handbrake. By doing this it will eliminate the possibility of you applying the handbrake too early whilst you are still moving, plus you may move off again quickly and so there was no need to use the handbrake anyway.

Manoeuvres and the handbrake

There is no rule for using the handbrake during manoeuvres, so this really depends on the situation. Roads often slope towards the pavement (camber) and if demonstrating a manoeuvre, it may prove beneficial to apply the handbrake to avoid rolling into the kerb.

These cambers can be steep and the use of the handbrake and the clutch biting point may help to prevent you rolling forwards or backwards and hitting the kerb. Similarly for the other manoeuvres, if you think using the handbrake will provide you with greater control, then use the handbrake.

Emergency stop and the handbrake

The handbrake should be used after the emergency stop has been completed. Similarly to parking up, when the car has come to a stop, apply the handbrake and select neutral. For further information on the emergency stop and a tutorial of its explanation, see:

Hill starts and the handbrake

If your driving test is in an area where slopes and hills are present, it’s likely you will be making hill starts on your driving test. Hill starts demonstrate to the examiner that you have good and safe control of the car and that you will not allow the car to roll backwards when moving off. Use of the handbrake and the clutch biting point will eliminate and rolling.


30 thoughts on “When To Use Handbrake”

  1. Lisa

    I’m helping my friend gain driving experience on the road her instructor has I old her to apply the handbrake when she is waiting for a gap to turn at a junction is this correct or can she use the clutch biting point she can pull out faster

  2. Hello Lisa,
    Either is acceptable depending on the situation –
    If the junction is on a slope and there’s a risk that the car may roll either forwards or backwards, it would be advisable to secure the car using the handbrake.
    If she has very good clutch control and there’s no risk of the car rolling, then it is acceptable to wait using clutch control only.
    However, bear in mind that sitting stationary on the clutch bite point does increase wear on the clutch, so the preferred method is to wait either by using the the foot brake to secure the car (on a flat surface) or the handbrake (if on a slope) – but not engage the clutch until you intend on moving off. This does require greater clutch control though as the possibility of stalling is increased.
    Essentially, choose which method she is most comfortable with as it will not impact the test result providing she has good control of the car. Perhaps just bear in mind the cost of replacing the clutch in the future.

  3. Lisa

    Thank you that’s really helpful she seems to stall more using handbrake which is why i asked as instructor told her she would fail if she didnt use it and yea using footbrake until there’s a gap then clutch control to get moving is what I ment and defiantly works better for her so we will go with that thanks a lot for advice this is a great site

  4. stephen thompson

    Do you need to apply the hand brake on both manual or automatic cars when the vehicle is stopped or stationary

  5. Hi Stephen,
    It depends on the situation and the vehicle. If you’re stopped in traffic (not moving) for some time, put the transmission in neutral or park and apply the handbrake. If the car has electronic parking brake, then there’s less chance of rolling, such as pulling out of a junction with an incline for example, so you will need to use the parking brake less. For manually operated parking brakes, you’ll need to use these more often regardless of whether it’s a manual or automatic vehicle due to there being more chance of rolling.

  6. Mike Peers

    My pupil sometimes finds it impossible to release the handbrake for a hill start unless she uses both hands. As long as the car is not moving and she holds it on the bite until hands are back on the steering wheel, is this acceptable or a fault?

  7. There’s definitely potential for a fault there if the car did move whilst she still had both hands on the handbrake. Does the handbrake need to be applied so hard that it requires both hands to release it? Is she pulling it up too much or does it need adjustment?

  8. Do leaner driver when do the driving test ,he or she do need to use the hand brake when they stop on the red light.if they do it gear should be 1 st or neutral

  9. Hello DP,
    There’s no specific rules for this, it’s about the road you’re on and the amount of time.
    The road you’re on – if you have stopped on a slope, it’s often a good idea to apply the handbrake to prevent rolling. Time wise – if you arrive at a red light and it has been red for a while and you expect it to change very soon, there’s no need for the handbrake. If it has only just changed to red, then apply the handbrake and leave the car in 1st gear. If you’re in a queue of traffic and are stationary for a longer period of time, apply the handbrake and select neutral.

  10. Jenny

    Hi im driving automatic and come to traffic lights do i put on handbrake and nutral in car

  11. Hi Jenny,
    Use of the handbrake in an automatic is essentially the same as though it was manual as described in the comments.

  12. Claudia

    Hi, my instructor has never told me to apply the handbrake when stopped at traffic lights or in traffic. I just keep the clutch down, should I start or is it ok that I don’t? Would I be faulted for it on the test?

  13. Hi Claudia,
    Stopping and using the handbrake in traffic / traffic lights is more of a safety measure rather than a test requirement. No need to use it if you are moving at short intervals, but if it looks like you’re going to be stationary for a bit, then put the handbrake on. Say when you stop, if no one is still moving after 30 seconds or so, secure the car with the handbrake. You wont fail if you don’t, but if your foot were to slip off the clutch or brake and the car moved, it might result in a fail. If the handbrake is applied, your car would not do this.

  14. Claudia

    Thank you for your reply! Ok I’ll start trying to use it when I see the traffic light has just turned red. What about zebra crossings, if someone is crossing would you recommend using the handbrake?

  15. Any situation where you might be stationary for a while really, just to secure the car. It’s totally your discretion if and when to use it. Equally though, don’t overuse it by applying it too much such as each and every time you stop.

  16. Matt Harris

    In normal conditions should the handbrake be pulled up as far as it can go? Also if I’m leaving my car for a while or in cold weather is pulling it up not fully, ie just enough to secure the car going to help stop it seizing?

  17. Hi Matt,
    You should avoid pulling up the handbrake excessively as you may risk stretching the cables which connect the system. Pulling the handbrake just until you feel it becomes tense should be sufficient for all occasions and weather. You can leave the car in gear for added security if you wish.

  18. Matt Harris

    Do you always need to use the handbrake when you stop at a stop junction?

  19. In terms of the driving test, it generally depends on how long you’re waiting. If you’re stationary for a while, it’s best to secure the car. Also if you’re on a slope where you may roll backwards, it’s a good idea to use the handbrake to prevent you rolling backwards. Though there’s no official rule that you have to use it at all at junction. It also depends on what technology you may have in your vehicle, hold assist, hill start assist etc..

  20. derek allen

    In reply to Jenny.

    I am currently giving driver training to my grand daughter and the same issue came up last evening. we are learning in an auto. Sorry but i am old school and suggested that on approaching traffic lights that have just turned red… you are in for a long wait so gears into park and hand brake on. In a manual drive car if you did not select neutral and then apply the hand brake … you need to depress the clutch… imagine in along phase traffic lights your leg is going to be under a lot of pressure . I believe its safer to do this but what does the road code and instructors say.

  21. Tashs

    My daughter went for her drivers licence test and the examiner failed her for not using her handbrake at a four way stop although it was her turn to pull off. He failed her on traffic violation.

  22. Hi Tashs,
    For UK driving tests, there’s no specific requirement to use the handbrake as such, but if by not using it results in the vehicle not being secure and safe, it can result in a test failure. So for example a test candidate can move off at an uphill junction without using the handbrake. Provided they do so safely, there will be no issues – even if they didn’t use the handbrake. If however the car rolls back then it may result in a test failure. In that situation, using the handbrake to secure the vehicle before moving off would be recommended.

  23. Hannah

    Do I have to put the hand break on at a stop sign?

  24. Hi Hannah,
    No. not at all. You might only want to consider it if there’s a risk of rolling backwards if it’s on a slope, but other than that, no need.

  25. Andrew

    If, as already suggested, a manual car can wait at traffic lights with the hand brake on, in gear 1, with the clutch down, can an automatic car wait with hand brake on and in Drive? Either with the foot brake on as well or just held on the hand brake?
    Finding Drive from Park, in my car, can be tricky and can land in Neutral or Low. This means that you need to take your eyes down to the stick to make sure and it’s time consuming when coming off the lights.

  26. Hi Andrew,
    Yes, throughout the course of normal driving, you’d seldom need to put your car in Park. In terms of the driving test, when the examiner asks you to park up on the left or right, you’d use Park to secure the vehicle, or if you were in for an unusually long stop (out of the ordinary) then also select Park, but otherwise, the footbrake will do, or if waiting slightly longer, then you can apply the hand brake.

  27. Andrew

    Thanks for the response.

    Can I just clarify, If I stop at a set of traffic lights for 20 seconds, should I just use the foot brake and leave it in D, the foot brake and hand brake together and leave it in D, the hand brake only and leave it in D, or put it in park and use the handbrake?

  28. Hi Andrew,
    Are your questions in regards to the driving test? There are no specific ‘rules’ regarding this, so it’s what you feel is appropriate. Most general driving will require only the use of the footbrake, you’ll not need to use Park unless you’re parking. If you’ve arrived at a set of lights and they’ve just turned red and you think you’ll have a bit of a wait, apply the hand brake, just for a little added security. But as I said, there’s no specifics around this. If you stop on a fairly steep uphill slope, you’ll want to use the hand brake to prevent rolling backwards – just in case the creep function isn’t strong enough to prevent the vehicle from rolling.

  29. twnese

    when stopping a red light, should I use foot brake and hand brake at the same time? some say we should not keep foot brake on so the brake lights won’t hurts driver’s eyes behind of you.

  30. Hi twnese,

    You’re right that brake lights can cause dazzle during the hours of darkness, so it can be considered considerate the apply the handbrake and take your foot off the brake pedal during these times. During the day, it matters less. At traffic lights, you usually only need to use the footbrake to secure the vehicle, unless you think your car may roll backwards, then you may benefit from the handbrake.

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