In terms of brake mechanisms, it can be said that driving is relatively safer these days. The advent of caliper brakes to replace drum brakes and other more recent advances in tire design and manufacture have contributed much to making land travel by automobile much less dangerous. But as you may know there are no 100% guarantees. Brake failure can still happen and when it does safety will mostly depends on the reflexes and know-how of the person behind the wheel.
- Thrust the brake pedal lightly a few times. This technique could be applied in case there's a leak in the braking system hydraulics. Brake fluid is squashed when the brake pedal is depressed and this force is transferred to the brake calipers. When there's a leak, brake pressure will be reduced and the pedal will feel soft when depressed. Once you notice this, stop the car using the technique described and check for leaks. If you confirm leaking brake fluid, have the car immediately checked by a mechanic before this malfunction leads to total brake failure.
- Allow your brakes to cool down. Brake fading occurs when the brakes heat up and they lose some of their capacity to stop the vehicle. This can happen in situations when the brakes are constantly used such driving on steep roads. Fortunately this condition doesn't last and allowing the brakes to cool down will eventually bring it back to normal operation. To avoid this type of brake failure in the first place, use lower gears on verticals hills and employ an engine brake when attempting to stop from high speed.
- Continuously push on the brake pedal. Hydraulic leaks and brake fades are just two common causes of brake failure. Your brakes could still give out for numerous other inexplicable reasons. Continuously pushing on the brake pedal might still get back some brake pressure. It will also turn the brake lights on and signal other drivers that you're trying to stop.
- Do not start swerving the car sharply from left to right. It's a misconception that doing so will help stop the vehicle when its brakes fail. The only thing this will accomplish is endanger other motorists and possibly cause your car to roll over.
- Try to downshift to a lower gear. This is also known as an engine break and will help slow down your vehicle. If the vehicle doesn't seem to be losing speed quickly enough, continuously shift to a lower gear until you reach the lowest. You can skip gears while downshifting on a manual transmission. This will probably damage the gears, but it's the lesser of two evils if you're about to collide in high speed. In an automatic transmission, you can only perform a downshift from one gear level to the next.
- Pull on and engage the hand brake. This is not as effective as the engine brake as this is really just used in cases where your car is drifting. It's possible that instead of stopping the car, it would just let it slide off the road. Resorting to the hand brake will require some maneuvering skills.
In the end what matters is keeping a cool and focused mind. Even when a crash is inevitable, try your best to point your car into an area where the crash will do the least collateral damage.