Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – When to Use the E-Brake, Controversial Speeding Ticket, Whole Foods Parking Update + MORE

December 5, 2016 14:00 pm · 38 comments


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Greetings, all! This column is for everyone who negotiates the highways and public transit of the Bay Area. It runs every first and third Monday of the month at 2pm and answers your commuting and transportation questions.

Email your questions to

COMMUTER:  In some areas of the country, and some cultures, regardless of vehicle transmission, the parking brake is regarded as an “emergency brake” and not something to regularly be engaged when the vehicle is stopped.

–Mary Fouts

TRAFFIC JAMMER: There’s been a great deal of debate in this column about whether or not to use the parking brake on a flat surface in a car with an automatic transmission. So the Jammer called in Brian Hagopian, a member of the automotive faculty at Las Positas College. Here are his thoughts:

It is always good to use a parking brake. Matter of fact, the manufacturers named it a parking brake because it is used for parking! Some people call it an emergency brake, which is completely wrong. It does almost nothing in an emergency. Just like we wear safety glasses in the shop, the parking brake is a safety measure, just use it!

A parking pawl is a lever inside of an automatic transmission/transaxle that engages a large cog. When you put your vehicle in park, you engage the lever in between the teeth of the cog. The pawl/cog is splined to the output shaft of the transmission and since it is now wedged, the car will not move.

Can they fail? Yes.  Have I ever seen one in my 25+ years? No.

If you want to argue that the pawls never break and there is no need for a parking brake on a level surface because the car will not move, fine. You can also be the test case for liability if it does happen to you because you decided to be an expert.

COMMUTER:  I received a speeding ticket today. However, I was observed in traffic using my cell phone looking at a map. Officer thought I was texting. So, the officer gave me a ticket for speeding, stating the safe speed would be zero and I was going up to 15 mph. The speed is negotiable because I don’t think I was going more than 5 mph. It was rush hour traffic. Can the officer do that?  And why wasn’t I given a cell phone ticket?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Here’s the word from our beloved Claycordian police officer, Officer Leo:

Distracted driving is dangerous – at any speed!

Cell phone use is generally prohibited in Section 23123 of the Vehicle Code.  As the law has evolved, there has been court cases that allow drivers to view a GPS/ mapping feature or app on their cell phones while driving.

Without knowing more details, it appears the officer believes the reader was using the GPS.  So, that takes the cell phone violation out of the situation.

However, the reader also describes that the officer thought she was texting … indicating that the officer saw some concentrated focus in using the cell phone during rush hour traffic.  The reader describes speeds between 5-15 mph.  That roughly translates to 7.5 – 22.5 feet per second.  In rush hour traffic where sudden stops are part of the event, those few seconds of distraction translating to several feet of travel before brakes are applied are the difference between stopping and crashing.

The general speed law (22350 VC), basically advises not to drive at any speed that it is not safe to do so. So, the officer presumably believes that traffic was too dense and/ or unpredictable to be distracted – even for a second. At least, that’s the way I would argue it.

COMMUTER: The New Whole Foods has only been open two days and our neighborhood along Via Monte and Venado Camino now has no parking for the residents! What gives!  It seems like the management has either told their employees to park in our neighborhood or the employees are afraid to get their own cars dinged up at our expense. I cannot even park in front of my own house now. 


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Outraged wrote this note a few weeks ago about the new WF that opened n November at Encina Grande Center in the city’s east side. The Jammer is happy to share that the situation is resolved. Here’s the word from Outraged:

I actually spoke with the assistant manager and he did talk to his people, and the situation is resolved.  Yes they were very apologetic and responded within a  couple of days, so all is well!  Thanks for the follow up!

TRAFFIC JAMMER: That’s it for this week. Be sure to cruise by at 2pm on the first and third Mondays of the month for more traffic intelligence. Remember, whether you drive, walk, bike or hop Amtrak, BART, County Connection or AC Transit, Traffic Jammer Janis Mara is here to answer your questions.

Send your questions to

Nick December 5, 2016 at 2:31 PM

I used my emergency brake every time I parked – with a manual transmission. I only use it with an automatic – with an incline. “Never seen it fail in 25 plus years.”

I’ve seen people in an automatic drive with the emergency brake on, because the person who drove the car last (probably a spouse or teenager) used the emergency brake, and the person driving the car now doesn’t use it, and didn’t realize it was set. That’s good for the car.

Most people who drive automatics do not use the emergency brake – period.

here i am December 5, 2016 at 2:45 PM

my car manual says to use the parking brake so I do. Read your manual!

mary f - ph December 5, 2016 at 2:50 PM


I drive an automatic, and always use the parking brake. Those don’t lack common sense.

The people you cited are idiots because they did not check to see if the parking brake was activated before driving.

Coco Rez December 5, 2016 at 2:58 PM

I’ve had an older automatic car roll down driveway while in park. So I use the parking break every time. Better safe then sorry.

TOB December 5, 2016 at 3:06 PM

I’ve always used parking break since a kid. Was always told it wasn’t good to have car creep forward/back when put in park. Just something I do automatically without a thought.

I think it can be called emergency break as well. When I was 16 back in late 70s (different time than today we could even ride in back of trucks), Sister had a Vega with no working brakes. I’d still take it out use the parking emergency brake screech to a halt. Teens do stupid things LOL.

KJ December 5, 2016 at 3:13 PM

I used to live on a steep hill and learned to always set curb the wheels and set the emergency brake. Was all that necessary? Perhaps not, but I never found my car at the bottom of the hill, either.

As for calling it an “emergency brake,” it sure was for me one time. I came off the highway and put my foot on the brake to slow because there was a traffic light up ahead. Nothing happened! I had no brakes; the master cylinder had failed. Somehow I managed to remain calm and slowly pulled up the emergency brake, which worked just fine. I was able to get the car stopped as easily as I did with the foot brake. Darn scary, however.

Jerk December 5, 2016 at 3:16 PM

Nick = Wrong about Most people who drive automatics.

PS – Most cars have a LIGHT telling you the Parking Brake is Engaged.

Nick December 5, 2016 at 3:47 PM

Most people don’t use the emergency brake with an automatic – unless on an incline. Period.

It’s not necessary, but use if you want.

Turn and burn December 5, 2016 at 3:51 PM

Well IMO, whether you were texting or looking at your map on your phone, yes, you are driving distracted. Not sure what you’re stating about your speed. But you weren’t paying attention to anything it sounds like except your phone. Even you don’t seem to know how fast you were going.

mary f - ph December 5, 2016 at 4:01 PM

I used my parking brake for an emergency once too when my dual diagonal service brakes failed.

To settle this debate, ask any DIY mechanic what he does with an automatic when he lifts the end of the car (opposite to the drive end) with floor jacks and jack stands. Does he put it in park and use wheel chocks?? Or does he just rely on the parking pawl?

Nick December 5, 2016 at 4:02 PM

“Motor Vehicle Maintenance Repair” (Google)

“Theoretically with park engaged also applying the parking brake is not necessary unless the car is on a big hill because the parking prawl has more than enough strength to hold the car from rolling.”

mary f - ph December 5, 2016 at 4:04 PM

Ignore the second half of my post above about DIY mechanics

ChampagneKitty December 5, 2016 at 4:15 PM

I’ve always driven an automatic and have always set the parking brake. I was under the impression that you’re supposed to. I am surprised to learn that this is even a question.

breakingnews December 5, 2016 at 4:15 PM

Never seen one fail in 25 years? Ive never seen or seen a documented failure of a parking pawl in over 40 years. I have never nor anyone I know used a parking brake. I never even used one in SF on some pretty steep hills either.
Heck, I dont listen to AM radio either but lots of dummies still do.

@Nick December 5, 2016 at 4:46 PM

“Theoretically”. 🙂
Grasping at straws. No Auto Manufacturer could be held liable if a car moves and only the Transmission was in Park,

Jeremy_S December 5, 2016 at 5:26 PM

@ #1

How do you know they had the parking brake on? Were the rear brakes smoking or locked up?

The parking brake does not engage the brake light switch which is at the brake pedal. If their brake lights were on it does not mean they had the parking brake on. That just means they’re one of those dumbasses that drives two footed with one resting on the brake pedal.

@ #11 & #13

What the hell does “dual diagonal service brakes” mean? I guess we should also ignore the first part of your post too.

Nick December 5, 2016 at 5:44 PM

Jeremy #17

How do I know the barking brake was on? Because I was sitting in the back seat, when my friend told his teenage daughter “release the parking brake – now!”

His wife obviously uses the parking brake. He doesn’t, and either does his teenage daughter.

And, yes, the brakes were locking up. She was just learning to drive, and had her Dad not been with her, she could’ve done some damage to her Mother’s car.

You can SEE when a parking brake is on. You lift it up. Even those of us who rarely use it know that.

Don’t be stupid – you can see whether a parking brake is set.

ClayDen December 5, 2016 at 6:05 PM

In my first car, an original Mini, the hand/parking/emergency brake was useful to put the rear of the car where you wanted it (the car was front wheel drive). This was especially useful when negotiating very tight turns at high rates of speed. The technique was to start to turn in, give the hand brake a quick yank (which put the car sideways) and stand on the accelerator while steering the front end where you wanted to go; this took care of the understeer inherent in a front wheel drive car. You could also use the technique to make U-turns at around 40MPH or so. They even sold kits to modify the way the hand brake worked, so instead of requiring you to push the button on the end of it to release it, you had to push the button to set the brake. This was called a fly-off hand brake and made it easier when negotiating a series of tight corners, as you only had to pull on the brake and let it go to release it without having to push and hold the set button. The technique was very useful running an autocross, as they tended to have many very tight corners. Since the car only had an 80″ wheelbase (120″ long overall), it was a great little autocross car. However, it was British and therefore unreliable. It was a hoot to drive but a pain to own.

BTW, I always set the parking brake, and do it first with an automatic while holding the brake pedal down, then put it into park. When ready to go again, foot on the brake, shift out of park, release the parking brake, then release the brake pedal and drive off. I do most of my driving in a manual transmission car though and always use the parking brake.

Realist December 5, 2016 at 6:36 PM

@Jeremy S: Dual diagonal service brakes are in fact a safety element in the design of automobile hydraulic disc brakes to help prevent complete hydraulic failure of the braking system like you see in the movies. Your left front and right rear are linked on the same circuit, as are the right front and left rear on a separate circuit. If one fails, the other remains operational. Good job on your automotive knowledge Mary F!

ANON December 5, 2016 at 7:12 PM

” I cannot even park in front of my own house now.’

You have no absolute right to do this–the city owns the street & you don’t…even thouht most people think the street in front of their home is theirs—- dummies

WC resident December 5, 2016 at 8:12 PM

I had a manual transmission Accord and once forgot to set the parking brake on a hill… I lucked out in that while the car went down a steep bank it did not flip over nor did it crash into anything. A tow truck pulled it back up to the street and I rarely forget to use the parking brake these days.

Ancient Mariner December 5, 2016 at 8:14 PM

I have never seen a parking pawl fail, but I have seen a drive shaft snap at the splines going into the transmission (big lumber truck in the foothills), leaving a loose vehicle.
if your automatic car is in PARK, without the handbrake on, and someone hits you from the front or rear, the load will be taken on the parking pawl. If the handbrake is on, the load will be taken by the braking system, sparing the transmission from the sudden load. So using the handbrake is a good idea, even on level ground.
When driving a manual transmission, the handbrake is a necessary part of driving the car, not just for parking use. When starting from a full stop on a hill, the handbrake is only released when the engine is holding the car through the clutch, to prevent the car from rolling backwards. As the clutch is gradually released, the engine begins to hold the weight of the car and then you release the handbrake, balancing it against the clutch, finally releasing it all the way as you accelerate. If the car rolls back (even a little) you fail your driving test in England.

paranoid pablito December 5, 2016 at 9:15 PM

Well, I’ve never seen a parking brake fail, but I have seen a black widow egg sack hatch, and that’s quite a sight.

mary f - ph December 5, 2016 at 10:01 PM


I listen to AM radio exclusively, except when NPR is on FM or when driving through the Sierras. I resent being called a dummy. AM radio listeners are more intelligent, as they listed to things like NPR, KGO, KCB, sports debates, etc.

mary f - ph December 5, 2016 at 10:03 PM

@Jeremy S. #17:

“The parking brake does not engage the brake light switch which is at the brake pedal.”

It does on my car. The light won’t go off until the parking brake is released.

mary f - ph December 5, 2016 at 10:10 PM

Thanks @Realist, #20! You too!

RunnerDope December 5, 2016 at 10:19 PM

>> Brake systems are dual diagonal, meaning the front right brake operates with the rear left brake on one circuit, and the front left brake operates with the rear right brake on another.

I hope you’re not saying all cars use this system. They don’t.

Gary December 5, 2016 at 10:26 PM

Amazing how many people do not know how to spell.

Parking Brake Monitor December 6, 2016 at 6:33 AM

All this over parking brake use? LOL

Anon. December 6, 2016 at 7:11 AM

@breaking news and Mary f- ph……

Making claims about levels of intelligence based on whether people listen to AM, FM or anything else?

You HAVE to be kidding! Making that claim tells me you’re “worse” than a dummy. Do you always categorize others into 1of 2 slots based on something like that?

I sure hope neither of you have children that are as narrow-minded as you!

You’re hopeless.

Mimi (original) December 6, 2016 at 8:40 AM

Oh Mi Gawd!! It’s called a PARKING BRAKE for that very reason! It should be used when YOU PARK! It gives you peace of mind that your car will stay where you’ve placed it and not roll out of a driveway or down a hill. Have ALWAYS used the parking brake on every car I have owned, whether manual or automatic transmission. Parking Brakes Save Lives! There! New Slogan!

Cowellian December 6, 2016 at 9:09 AM

Y’all are arguing apples and oranges.
The brake lights are part of the taillights,and are activated by the brake pedal.
The parking brake light is the one on the dashboard.

Shoulda Coulda December 6, 2016 at 10:01 AM

@ ClayDen

It sounds like you were describing
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride!

FurryHat December 6, 2016 at 10:33 AM

I think Janis needs to do a story on Prop 13, as it has a big negative impact on traffic, probably more than anything else in the long run.

chuckie the troll December 6, 2016 at 12:08 PM

I was taught to always use the parking break. The car may be fine as is, however, if your parked vehicle is hit by another vehicle someone could be injured. In the same way, I always keep my foot on the break at a stop light. I’ve been rear-ended several times, once by a drunk driver (.23 BAC and traveling +/- 35 mph).

You never know what you might encounter out there now days!

Silva December 6, 2016 at 12:08 PM

Driver’s Training instructor told us to set the parking brake as part of the normal procedure of parking the car, and I always have no matter what. My son never does, but he doesn’t listen to me. He’s a “the hard way” learner. Some sort of disability thing I guess.

Ancient Mariner, My mom started doing that on her first new car, a late ’61 VW Bug, after she claimed to have read about it in the manual. I thought later on that she must’ve been mistaken. You just verified her story in my mind. I always thought it was a bit scary. She was hard on clutches. She went through clutches like they were made of plywood. She couldn’t drive an automatic though. She used two feet, and it never went well and she hated it. I prefer a manual trans, and have never rolled back on a hill. I also was surprised to realize clutches aren’t something you probably will be replacing with every other brake job. I don’t recall ever needing a new clutch. It may have happened, but I don’t think so.

GRX December 7, 2016 at 12:04 AM

The parking pawl in my 68 Ford is so worn out that the trans will slip incrementally until the car is at the bottom of my sloped driveway unless I set the parking brake.

I need to get its C4 rebuilt one of these days.

tired of taxes December 8, 2016 at 9:41 AM

This is like arguing how hard the rain is pouring down before you use the windshield wipers. It is called a parking brake. Not a use-only-on-an-incline brake. Idiots.

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