Stop Skidding Around

It almost always happens. Road collisions skyrocket on the day of the first major snowfall of the season. Time and time again, people seem to need a refresher on how to drive on our slick snow- or ice-covered roads and not become the other motorist with their vehicle in the ditch. Should you find yourself in harm’s way, here’s what you can do to proactively steer yourself back to safety.

How Skids Occur

A skid occurs when you apply the brakes so hard that one or more wheels lock or if you press hard on the accelerator and spin the drive wheels. Skids can also occur when you are traveling too fast on a curve or encounter a slippery surface.

Skids fall into two groups: rear-wheel skids and front-wheel skids. Regardless of the type of skid you encounter, to regain control of your vehicle – DO NOT PANIC!

Rear-Wheel Skids
The most effective way to get your vehicle back under control during a skid is as follows:

  • Take your foot off the brake if the rear wheels skid due to hard or panic braking.
  • Ease off the accelerator if the rear wheels lose traction due to hard acceleration.
  • De-clutch on a vehicle with a manual transmission or shift to neutral (if you are certain of finding neutral immediately) on a vehicle with automatic transmission.
  • Look and steer in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go.
  • Just before the rear wheels stop skidding to the right or left, counter-steer until you are going in the desired direction.
  • In a rear-wheel drive vehicle, if you over-correct the first skid, be prepared for a rear-wheel skid in the opposite direction. Practice and the use of timely movement of the steering wheel are necessary to avoid this type of skid.
  • Once the vehicle is straight, release the clutch or shift to drive, apply gentle accelerator pressure so that the engine speed matches the road speed, and accelerate smoothly to a safe speed.

Front-Wheel Skids
Front-wheel skids are caused by hard braking or acceleration if your vehicle has front-wheel drive. When the front wheels lose traction, you will not be able to steer the vehicle. Sometimes front-wheel skids are perceived as more dangerous because they are experienced less often. In actuality, front-wheel skids are easier to correct and less hazardous, because there is no risk of the vehicle skidding in the opposite direction.

Regardless of whether the vehicle has front-, rear- or four-wheel drive, the best way to regain control if the front wheels skid is:

  • Take your foot off the brake if the front wheels skid due to hard or panic braking. Ease your foot off the accelerator if the front wheels lose traction due to hard acceleration.
  • De-clutch on a vehicle with manual transmission, or shift to neutral (if you are certain of finding neutral immediately) on a vehicle with automatic transmission.
  • If the front wheels have been turned prior to the loss of traction, don’t move the steering wheel. Since the wheels are skidding sideways, a certain amount of braking force will be exerted. (Unwinding the steering wheel will reduce the steering angle and result in regaining steering sooner; however, the vehicle will be traveling faster because there is little sideways braking force. This technique should only be attempted in situations where limited space and sharp curves exist.)
  • Wait for the front wheels to grip the road again. As soon as traction returns, the vehicle will start to steer again.
  • When the front wheels have regained their grip, steer the wheels gently in the desired direction of travel.
  • Release the clutch or shift to drive and apply gentle accelerator pressure so that the engine speed matches the road speed, and accelerate smoothly to a safe speed.

Always Remember:

  • You must keep your foot off the brake pedal if you start to skid and steering correctly will depend on the direction of the skid.
  • Skids can best be avoided by anticipating lane changes, turns and curves; slowing down in advance; and by making smooth, precise movements of the steering wheel.
  • For the best steering control, use two hands on the wheel and hold the steering wheel at a 9 and 3 o’clock position.

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I am a Fleet Safety Operations Manager with 30 years of experience teaching traffic safety across five provinces, and in four countries. Outside of work, I am an avid traveller, a fervent Flames fan, and a Mustang enthusiast.