What Is One-Pedal Driving?

In some electric vehicles, the driver may not need to use the brake pedal. For real.

Capital One

Owning and operating an electric vehicle can take some getting used to. You plug it in instead of filling it up. You may wonder if it’s even on; it’s so quiet. And in some models, you can drive in traffic without using the brake pedal if you so choose.

If you’re just becoming acquainted with the world of electric vehicles (EVs), the last statement may sound improbable (if not impossible), but it’s true. Automakers call this “one-pedal driving.”

How it Works

In a gasoline-powered car, lifting off the accelerator pedal causes the vehicle to slowly lose momentum. The driver can of course speed up this deceleration by hitting the brake pedal, but that wastes the vehicle's kinetic energy — that is, the energy it has by being in motion. Applying the brakes merely takes that kinetic energy and transforms it into heat, which does nothing to help the vehicle's range or efficiency. But in vehicles with electric motors — including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and EVs — lifting off the accelerator (the ‘one pedal’ in one-pedal driving) often initiates regenerative braking, wherein an electric motor slows the vehicle and captures kinetic energy to charge the battery.

Automakers often give drivers the ability to select different levels of regenerative braking. One mode may replicate the coasting you've grown accustomed to with a gas-powered car while another provides max regen as soon as you lift off the pedal. In some EVs, such as Teslas, the deceleration is strong enough to bring the vehicle to a stop in typical traffic without using the brake pedal. Instead of modulating a brake pedal to smoothly slow the vehicle, the driver modulates the accelerator pedal. It often takes practice to feel comfortable abandoning such a vital control, but once you’re familiar with your vehicle’s energy-regeneration settings, you may find one-pedal driving to be engaging. And by using the motor(s) to stop the vehicle, you limit wear on brake components, potentially extending their life.

Cars with One-Pedal Driving

Vehicles that offer one-pedal driving still have a brake pedal that can scrub speed quickly in an emergency. Often the first portion of the brake pedal’s travel increases how aggressively the motors recoup energy. But push the pedal past a certain threshold and the brake pads will start to clamp down on the brake discs, making for a quicker stop but wasting the vehicle's kinetic energy in the process.

Every manufacturer handles regenerative braking differently. The Chevrolet Bolt, for example, comes with a small paddle behind the steering wheel. When it is pulled and held, it increases the regeneration rate. Chevy claims that one-pedal driving can increase the Bolt’s range by 5%. In the Honda CR-V Hybrid, the driver can use the two paddles behind the wheel to increase or decrease the aggressiveness of regeneration. Volkswagen ID.4 drivers will regularly need to use the brake pedal, even in the ID.4’s most aggressive Brake mode. And in new Teslas, owners don’t have any control over how regenerative braking functions. In October 2020, Tesla removed the low regenerative braking option on new vehicles, leaving owners with just one setting.

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Austin Lindberg
Austin Lindberg has spent the past 15 years working in journalism as a reporter and an editor covering the automotive industry, motorsports, and soccer for publications in the U.S. and the U.K. He is an EV owner with a keen interest in electrification and green tech.