Knowing how to control a skid is an important driving skill; but it’s better to know how not to cause one.
Drivers sometimes blame all kinds of things for when they lose control of their car; but the fact is that the vast majority of skids are simply caused by bad driving.
To avoid a skid, a driver should:
- drive at a sensible speed for the road and traffic conditions
- look well ahead
- keep a safe distance from other vehicles
- and react in good time to developing hazards
A vehicle does not normally go out of control of its own accord. It’s when the driver uses the brakes, steering, and accelerator harshly that they cause skids to occur. Another factor is taking corners too fast. When the road surface is poor or slippery, this can contribute to the likelihood of the wheels losing their grip; but it’s the driver’s failure to make allowances for the conditions that is the main factor.
Skids Caused by Braking
Drivers cause most skids by excessive braking. When you use the brakes, the weight of the vehicle presses onto the front wheels. This effectively lifts the pressure from the rear wheels and some of their grip is therefore lost. Under heavy braking, the change in the distribution of weight is such that the rear wheels could lose their grip altogether. When this happens there will be so much weight on the front wheels that they may ‘lock up’ and slide.
In this type of skid, because the rear wheels lose their grip first, the vehicle may have a tendency for the back of the car to slide to the left or right. Your car may be starting to spin. It’s vital to avoid causing a skid while cornering, and this is why you should always avoid braking on bends. The centrifugal force will already be pulling the vehicle to the outside of the bend. Heavy braking here could have disastrous consequences.
How to Control the Skid
To control a skid you have caused by braking, the first thing you need to do is to take your foot from the brake pedal. Releasing the brakes for a moment will give your wheels chance to regain their grip. Without this you have no steering control and the vehicle will slide wherever it wants to.
Having achieved a grip on the road again you can then correct the steering. If the back of your car slides to your right, steer gently to the right to bring the car back to a straight line. And vice versa, if the rear of the car slides to your left, then steer carefully to the left. Be careful not to turn the wheel more than is necessary, otherwise you could start a slide in the opposite direction. Once steering control is regained, you can brake again but less harshly.
In releasing the brakes, the car will travel further; but at least you will have control over the wheel and will perhaps be able to steer around whatever caused you to brake so heavily in the first place.
When the car skids due to heavy braking but remains on a straight course, to control a skid all you need to do is to release the pedal and then brake again. If you find yourself running out of space let the brake go altogether and steer yourself out of trouble if possible.
Most modern cars now come with the benefit of ABS braking, which means that you can still steer while braking firmly. But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by this. You should still follow the rules above and do your best to avoid driving in a way that causes the ABS to activate.