Winter Skidding

This time of year skidding accounts for a very high proportion of accidents yet few people are taught how to recognise and control skids, a life saving skill for any driver.

Skidding is a loss of adhesion of the front, rear or all 4 wheels and is almost invariably caused by one of, or a combination of, 3 common driving errors:

  • excessive speed
  • excessive steering
  • excessive braking

In 2006, 68,000 accidents… 15% of the total number recorded were the result of skids. More alarmingly, this 15% produced 41% of the total fatalities, 30% of the most serious injuries and 21% of minor injuries.

Driving on any suspect surface requires even more care and delicacy than usual.

The key to driving well is to carry out all actions in a calm, unhurried, manner, brake gently and progressively in a straight line, steer smoothly and progressively, and accelerate gently.

Obviously, all of these factors are even more important on wet roads, fallen leaves, snow or ice.

Rear wheel skids are a loss of adhesion of the rear wheels which then try to pivot about the front wheels.

In rear wheel drive cars, such skids are corrected by:

  1. lifting off the accelerator
  2. NOT braking
  3. turning the front wheels gently in the direction of the skid, taking care not to over-correct which may cause the tail to break away in the opposite direction

Rear wheel slides are less common in a front wheel drive car and are corrected by the same method.

Front wheel skids are treated similarly:

  1. gently off the power
  2. DON’T hit the brakes
  3. smoothly ” saw ” the steering wheel from side to side until adhesion is regained when you can steer out of trouble

Complete four wheel skids are comparatively rare, and the best principle is to adopt the same action as for a front wheel drive skid to regain steering as quickly as possible.

While it was easy to write that, skid control is a skill which can only be learnt by doing and probably the most useful, life saving skill a driver can learn is how to recognise and control skids before that knowledge is actually needed.

Such skills can only really be taught on a skid pan by a skilled instructor and most driving schools can offer such tuition.

While on the subject of skidding, ABS is a safety feature now on many cars yet few people seem to understand what it can and can’t do. On a wet or icy road the electro-mechanical ABS system will enable the car to come to a halt more quickly and smoothly by rapidly applying the brakes to the point of maximum adhesion and then releasing them so that sufficient steering control can be retained avoid an impact.

The manual equivalent of ABS is cadence braking – as taught to police drivers for many years – which mimics the effect of the electro-mechanical aid. It is a difficult technique to master but one can use it to avoid hitting an object, a very worthwhile skill to learn and, again, a skid pan is the best place to learn.

To drive safely in poor conditions the car must be in peak condition and the driver alert, well trained and confident in their ability to deal with the worst possible conditions.

One last tip, really the last piece of advice I can give on the subject…. If you watch motor racing in-car videos you will often see that very experienced drivers, when they realise that a crash is inevitable, remove their hands from the steering wheel and their feet from the pedals. In these circumstances, when an impact is unavoidable, your injuries will be less severe if you don’t have your foot hard on the brakes and your hands braced against the wheel. A gloomy note to finish on but it may save your life when all other action has failed.

Article © Graham Benge 2007

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