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Coasting Downhill: Dangerous and Costly


California Motor Vehicle Code 21710 makes it illegal to travel downhill with your car or truck in neutral. Coasting down hills is illegal in most states in the U.S.

Your car is not designed to travel in neutral. It is hard on your brakes, your power steering, and your gas usage. Here are a few reasons why it is not safe to coast down hills:

  1. No opportunity for engine braking. If you drive a standard transmission, your car is designed for engine braking when traveling downhill. Get into the habit of downshifting on hills. This will be better for your transmission and save your brake pads.
  2. Power steering loses its effectiveness. If your car was built after 1980, it most likely has power steering. When driving in neutral, the power steering will not work as well as it does when the car engine is engaged. This will make turning around curves and avoiding road hazards more difficult. You could also overcorrect and crash.
  3. Brakes may fail. If you ride downhill with your foot on the brake the whole way, the added stress on your brakes could cause them to stop working. Cars in neutral will pick up speed, making the brake pads heat up to unsafe levels. Many trucks have lost their brakes because they were coasting downhill instead of downshifting.
  4. Getting in gear takes time. Accidents can occur in the blink of an eye. If you have to take the extra second to get your car into gear, you may not be able to avoid obstacles. Animals and potholes spring up out of nowhere and you should always be prepared to drive around them if necessary. If you are coasting, your only option for avoiding hazards is to swerve or slam on your brakes. Both of these are bad options.

Driving in neutral does not save your gas. Coasting, then engaging, then coasting, then engaging again will actually use more gas than if you left your car in gear the entire time. If you are worried about your gas mileage, car experts recommend never drive faster than 55 mph, always accelerate slowly, use cruise control whenever possible and don’t ride the brakes unnecessarily. Coasting will not save gas, and it is unsafe.

A violation of vehicle code 21710 is hard to prove. Unless the officer is in the car with the driver, how will he or she know if the driver was coasting? If someone suspected of coasting down a hill has injured you, a lawyer may be able to help you. The personal injury lawyers at Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys have experience dealing with these types of cases. They may be able to help you file a claim while you recover from your injuries.

To find out more on this and other traffic laws, please see the complete listing of California Motor Vehicle Codes.

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