Effective Measures to Steer through Skids Safely


There are several ways a driver can lose control of their vehicle and end up in a skid. Loss of traction can result from encountering gravel, rain, snow, or ice, or if the speed exceeds the ability of the vehicle to maintain traction on a clean, dry road surface. The type of road conditions the driver is faced with and whether the vehicle is powered by a front- or rear-wheel drive, will determine to some extent the best way to bring the vehicle back under control.

Most drivers eventually encounter a situation when either the front two and/or back two tires lose traction with the road, resulting in a loss of control over the speed and direction of travel. Loss of traction for either the right two or left two tires, when hydroplaning for example, does not result in an inability to control the direction of travel or to reduce speed.

Most skids occur when taking a turn or changing a lane too fast for road conditions. If the front tires lose traction, most drivers instinctively keep turning in the direction they wish to go. This helps create more friction between the front tires and the road, which is a good thing. Drivers also instinctively take their foot off the gas pedal, which tends to help the front tires regain traction. Depending on road conditions, carefully applying the brakes may also increase the amount of friction at the front tires. These simple and largely instinctive maneuvers will frequently bring the vehicle back under control quickly.

If the rear tires lose traction in a turn it’s important to keep the front tires turned towards the direction of travel. This is called ‘steering into the skid’ and serves three purposes: (1) utilizes the tires with traction to keep the vehicle going in the right direction, (2) minimizes the chances that the front tires will lose traction, and (3) keeps the front of the car pointed in the direction of travel so that the driver isn’t faced with the near impossible task of trying to recover from a skid while traveling sideways or backwards. Drivers of rear-wheel drive vehicles will want to remove their foot from the accelerator and if the vehicle is equipped with a standard transmission, disengage the clutch. Using the brakes will usually make matters worse and should be avoided. These tactics allow the rear wheels to more quickly match the speed of travel and regain traction. Drivers of front-wheel drive vehicles will want to maintain power to the front wheels to pull the car through the turn. Depending on road conditions and the speed of the vehicle, a slight acceleration may even be helpful. Unless the turn becomes sharper or more slippery it shouldn’t be necessary to use the brakes. If the speed is too high for the turn, gently ease off the accelerator to slow the vehicle.

Drivers of vehicles in a four wheel skid will want to instinctively slam on their brakes. Depending on road conditions this may make matters worse. Vehicles equipped with an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) will survive this maneuver much better than older vehicles without ABS. All drivers will be better off by focusing on keeping the nose of the car pointed in the direction of travel, than attempting to bring the car to a stop. Doing so will increase the chances of the front tires regaining traction, which in turn will give the driver more control over their vehicle. Use of the brakes may simply prolong the skid by preventing the tires from regaining traction with the road.

Of course the best advice is to avoid getting into a skid in the first place and the best recipe for doing so is to slow down and keep your vehicle maintained properly. This includes maintaining the proper tire pressure, the appropriate treads for the season, and keeping the braking system in good condition.

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