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Car makers to leave the handbrakes off in future and all switch to electronic devices

For years handbrakes have been as familiar a part of the car as the steering wheel or seat belt.

But new research reveals the end of the road is in sight for the traditional lever next to the driver’s seat as it disappears from the vast majority of new cars.

Only three in ten new models in showrooms today are fitted with manual handbrakes as manufacturers ditch them in favour of electronic parking devices. 

Only three in ten new cars in showrooms today have manual handbrakes as manufacturers switch to electronic devices (stock photo)

Within a few years, mechanical handbrakes will join chokes, cassette players and wind-up windows in being consigned to history, experts predict.

The study of 32 car makers by online marketplace CarGurus found that Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Mercedes and Porsche no longer have any models on sale with a traditional handbrake.

Instead, the latest systems see a simple switch or push-button engage a pair of small motors connected to the rear brakes and a symbol on the dashboard tells the driver when they are applied.

Most electronic handbrakes disengage automatically when drivers pull away and often offer an automatic hill-start assist function as an additional safety benefit.

They cannot be activated on the move, spelling the end of reckless, Starsky and Hutch-style handbrake turns.

Just two mainstream manufacturers – Dacia and Suzuki – still have a manual handbrake fitted across their entire range of models.

Some motorists may be dubious about the safety or reliability of the new technology after a spate of recalls by brands for potentially faulty electronic brake systems.

Volkswagen issued a recall for 134,000 UK cars in 2017 over problems with its parking brake, affecting Golf, Touran, Tiguan and Passat models.

The same year, Tesla issued a global recall of 53,000 cars and Audi, Renault and Toyota have all also had to recall models over electronic brake faults in the past.

The risk of hacking attacks also rises as ever more electronics are introduced into vehicles.

Researchers have previously demonstrated their ability to hack the computers in cars, remotely controlling steering, acceleration and braking.

The AA says it is ‘broadly in favour’ of electronic systems as they hold cars more securely but warns that they could confuse drivers without ‘consumer education’. 

Within a few years, mechanical handbrakes will be consigned to history alongside chokes, cassette players and wind-up windows (stock photo)

Within a few years, mechanical handbrakes will be consigned to history alongside chokes, cassette players and wind-up windows (stock photo)

Its head of road policy Jack Cousens said: ‘Electronic parking devices are simple to use and reduce the scope for human error as they set the brake tension to the correct level.

‘They put an end to cars rolling down inclines because the handbrake was not fully on and they make hill starts easier.

‘We see it more as a consumer education issue for car buyers or hirers.

‘It is simply a ten second lesson where the garage or car hire firm points out the device, so that drivers are not left scrabbling around, wondering where the handbrake is.’

He said that electronic systems remove the physical effort of yanking a chunky lever and free up space in the centre console.

With the technology – first used on the BMW 7 Series in 2001 – becoming ever more affordable, the manual method is likely to be phased out entirely over the next few years.

The CarGurus study found that only 30 per cent of new models now have handbrakes, down from 37 per cent in 2018.

CarGurus UK editor Chris Knapman confirmed that the handbrake is heading for extinction..

He said: ‘It’s official, the death of the handbrake is coming as manufacturers switch to electronic parking brakes in huge numbers.

‘They have rapidly gone from being a novelty to what our research shows is now the norm.

‘Within the next few years we expect the number of cars on sale with traditional handbrakes to decline further, likely only to be found on a select number of niche models.

‘These systems might lack the tactile feel that some drivers value from a traditional manual parking brake but they bring several benefits in terms of convenience, safety and packaging.

‘An electronic parking brake can engage automatically when a car’s engine is switched off and many also include an auto-hold function that will apply the parking brake when a car is stopped in traffic or on a hill.

‘Electronic parking brakes are also easier to install than their manual equivalents and replacing a handbrake lever with a simple button frees up more space in a car’s interior – useful perhaps for an extra cup holder or two!’

But he added that the trend for electronic devices might take some of the fun out of driving for new motorists.

He said: ‘Of course, the benefits can’t be ignored but as the latest technology trickles through manufacturer line-ups, many new drivers might never experience one of the most familiar of automotive features.

‘The temptation to attempt flamboyant handbrake turns is soon to be a thing of the past too!’

Earlier this week, it emerged that some of the world’s biggest makers of self-driving cars want US regulators to remove the requirement for steering wheels, pedals and mirrors.

Companies including Honda, Uber, Waymo and Lyft, which are developing autonomous cars, want the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to recognise self-driving cars as a separate vehicle class to address the rules. 


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