Car manufacturers are slowly phasing out the traditional lever-type park brake and replacing it with electric versions.
To apply or release the park brake the driver pulls or pushes a toggle switch which tells the car’s computer to operate the electric motors driving the brakes. You will often hear a distinctive and satisfying “whirr” as they engage.
Many of the systems can apply themselves automatically when the ignition is turned off, as long as the vehicle is in drive and the accelerator is touched.
Electric park brakes offer significant advantages. Firstly, since there is no cable or ratchet mechanism, it frees up space in the cabin allowing the control to be put in a good ergonomic position that won’t cause injury in an accident. Also, electric park brakes don’t rely on cable tension to operate so there’s no problem with the handbrake going out of alignment.
Car manufacturers have thought of other ways to use the technology too, the most common being to hold the vehicle automatically on an incline, which is particularly useful for cars that use dual-clutch gearboxes that normally go into neutral when stationary.
A word of caution though – if you know someone about to take a driving test, VicRoads does not currently allow a car that has an electric park brake to be used in a driving test, unless it is set up for dual control and an instructor is in the front passenger seat. Pretty much every car with electric park brakes will have Electronic Stability Control so RACV feels it is time for this restriction to be removed, particularly since many of these systems double as a sophisticated emergency stop feature when applied in motion.