Slip sliding away…

Since most of us tend to forget a variety of things over time, I thought this may be a good time to review how to get a grip. I’m not talking about getting a grip on reality; I’m talking about getting a grip on the road. Do you know what it takes to control a skid; or better yet, avoid getting into one?The first thing to remember is that no one belongs to the “It Won’t Happen to Me” club. If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself into a skid at any time of the year. Any time there’s a loose substance on the road surface, you’re risking a skid. This would include leaves; wet or dry makes very little difference at all. Other substances would include gravel, rain, snow, ice and even wet lane markings. These will all reduce the friction between your tires and road surface.

Once you reduce friction, you reduce traction.

Skids are often caused by change; change of speed or direction.

If you couple those up with any of the loose surfaces, you’ve got a high chance of losing control of your vehicle. For the most part, you can predict when your vehicle could skid or slide. If you pay attention enough to your driving, you should notice the road conditions and should be able to adjust to them.
But how much adjusting and what type of adjusting should we do?

If you end up taking a corner too quickly, your vehicle may understeer.

This is when the wheels are turned to the right or left, but the vehicle continues to plow straight ahead. This is often caused by too much speed into a corner or jerky steering; all on a slippery or loose road surface. The moment this happens, ease off the gas and look straight ahead where you want the vehicle to go. Turning the steering wheel more will cause a spin once the wheels have regained their grip on the road. This may cause your vehicle to leave the road.

You may also find yourself in a rear wheel skid, often referred to as oversteer.

Oversteer is caused by too much speed into a corner, rough steering or harsh braking before a turn or curve. When you do any of those on a slippery road surface, you’re very likely to skid and lose control of your vehicle.

There are two ways to control oversteer, depending on the type of vehicle you’re driving.

If you’re driving a rear wheel drive vehicle, like a full size sedan, look straight ahead, come off all pedals and shift to neutral. The rear drive-wheel may be moving at a quicker speed than the other 3 wheels causing the “fishtail” effect, so shifting into neutral allows it to move at the same rate of speed so the “fishtail” can stop. Again, look straight ahead and not around the corner. Trying to steer around the corner while in a rear wheel skid will most likely cause your vehicle to continue spinning. This could cause a crash with oncoming vehicles since it would most likely put you in the oncoming lane.

If you’re driving a front wheel drive vehicle and find yourself in a rear wheel skid, a slight tap on the gas will pull your vehicle out of the skid. Think of it as a pull toy when you were a kid. If you pulled the string, the toy would follow. The string was attached to the front of the toy; somewhat like the front wheels pulling the vehicle through the skid.

Regardless of the type of skid you’re in, respond immediately and never give up. Think of ways to avoid skids altogether such as reduced speed and winter tires during the winter season. This may help you avoid slip, sliding away.


Author’s Bio: Scott Marshall is Director of Training for Young Drivers of Canada (www.yd.com). Recently he has been a judge on the first three seasons of Canada’s Worst Driver on Discovery Network. Scott started writing columns on driving for his community paper over 4 years ago. Since then his columns have been printed in several publications including newspaper, magazines and various web-sites. Now he has his own blog at http://safedriving.wordpress.com. You can reach Scott via e-mail with any questions or comments at safedriver36@yahoo.ca.