Regenerative braking in start and stop traffic

04 Jun 2024

Regenerative driving in crowded roads can be useful – here's how

If you drive in a busy city, town, or road where you find yourself surrounded by commuters, school taxis, vans and buses, you’re probably familiar with start and stop traffic. It's that type of slow-moving driving condition when you drive a short distance, brake, slow down, stop, and repeat. Delays on motorways and sometimes just busy times of day can all cause stop and start traffic.

You might have your own way of seeing the positive to this type of driving: a time to listen to your favourite podcast, for example. But if you’re an EV driver there could be another silver lining to start and stop traffic – as a chance to create energy for your battery.

That’s thanks to regenerative braking, an EV feature which turns braking, or any moment you take your foot off the accelerator, into energy for your EV. It’s likely your EV has it, as so many EVs and hybrids come with it, but double-check if you’re unsure – there's no shame in not knowing.

Here’s some handy information on regenerative braking in stop and start traffic – how it works, how it may feel, and things you can try to maximise your conversion. You might not be able to do anything about sluggish traffic, but you can at least turn it to your advantage. Take a look.

1. How regenerative braking works

Let’s start with the general principle of regenerative braking. Think of your car going at a normal driving speed and then stopping. Where does the energy from the car’s momentum go? As we're sure you remember from your science lessons at school, energy can’t be destroyed. But in a normal car, that energy has nowhere to go.

But EVs and hybrids with regenerative breaking are able to absorb and keep some kinetic energy created by braking. That's because electric motors can run either forwards or backwards (or, clockwise and anti-clockwise.) So when you brake or take your foot off the accelerator in your EV, the motor spins in the opposite direction to your wheels. This generates energy which gets converted and stored in the vehicle’s battery.

Regenerative braking can feel a little different to braking in a petrol or diesel car. Your EV may slow down more gradually – rather than the abrupt braking you can feel in a petrol or diesel car. That smoother deceleration is all part of the conversion process.

That’s the basics covered – now, back to those stop and start situations.

2. Try one-pedal driving

Many EVs have a feature called one-pedal driving. With this, when you take your foot off the accelerator pedal, regenerative braking begins without you needing to use the brake pedal. This could help you make the most of stop and start situations where you’re repeatedly slowing down, as the conversion begins as soon as you take your foot off the accelerator, rather than when you press down the brake.

(Remember that not all EVs allow complete one-pedal driving, so you will need to press the brake pedal to bring it to a complete stop. Check your manual to find out about your mode.)

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3. Your EV can act as an energy ‘reporter’

Many EVs can provide real-time feedback on your energy consumption and regeneration through your dashboard or infotainment system. Next time you’re driving in a busy environment dense with vehicles, why not take a look at the metrics when it’s safe to do so? Then, you can adjust your driving in stop and start situations depending on how much energy you’re creating and generating – and what improvements you might like to make. Your manual and manufacturer should be able to give you specific advice for your make and model in stop and start traffic.

4. Don’t be afraid to tweak

Many EVs allow you adjust the intensity of your regenerative braking. Higher regenerative braking settings typically capture more energy but may require some adjustment to your driving technique as you may feel the force of the brake more immediately. Your EV may even come with a smart regenerative braking mode, which may read the road grade and distance to traffic ahead and adjust itself.

Regen braking mode (or Regen On Demand) often allows you to use a paddle on the back of your steering wheel to control how fast you slow down – which could be handy in situations in busy environments where you want to brake perhaps faster than usual (such as a residential street in stop and start traffic) and then convert that into something useful.

Using and maximizing regenerative braking can be a bit of a learning curve at first, as you get used to your specific EV and driving style within it. You'll soon get the knack – and now you know a little more about the science behind it, hopefully you’re up for experimenting and discovering more behind the wheel. To find out more about different modes in your EV, read this article. And when it comes to topping up your battery on the road, you can always download our free app to see where our chargers are on your travels.

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