How To Steer Out of a Skid
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that accidents related to icy road conditions kill more people annually than all other weather events combined. Driving in the ice and snow pose a real safety threat, especially if you live in Michigan or Pennsylvania, the two states with the highest annual winter-driving fatalities.
If you do drive in the winter, chances are you’ve experienced skidding before, especially if the roads were icy or collecting snow. Your heart dropped, and you scrambled to slam on the brakes or jerk the steering wheel, desperate to get your tires to regain traction.
Hopefully, if you’ve been in this situation before, your gut reaction led you to the right movements, and you were able to steer out and regain control. The AMG Driving Academy warns that 50% of people instinctively turn the wheel the wrong way when attempting to steer out of a skid, which is why it’s important to have prior knowledge of how to react to skidding safely since you won’t have time to think in the moment.
There are three main kinds of skids:
The steps to get out of each kind vary slightly, but small, gradual adjustments are always more effective than immediate, jerky movements to get your car back to a safe path on the road.
Front-wheel skidding, or understeer, causes most skids in front-wheel drive vehicles. These tend to happen when you accelerate or break too fast when turning, which prevents your front tires from gaining enough traction on the ground. This forces your car forward in a straight line off the road.
The two most important pieces to getting out of a front-wheel skid are staying calm and focusing on a target further down the road where you want to be. When you feel your front tires lock up and slide off the road, gradually ease off the gas and gently apply the brake. Don’t try to correct anything with the steering wheel—let your tires regain traction by themselves and keep focusing on that object down the road. When you feel your wheels regain traction, slowly proceed in the direction you want to go.
The best way to prevent understeering is to take turns slowly, especially when weather makes the roads more slippery. If there is ice or snow on the road, drive under the speed limit so you have more time to react if a skid occurs.
Oversteer, or rear-wheel skidding, is more common in rear-wheel drive cars, and it’s typically caused by pushing the brakes too hard, especially when taking turns. The back wheels lose traction, often due to inclement weather conditions, and the rear of the car spins out and swings toward the front of your car. Again, it’s important to stay calm and focus on an object ahead of you in the direction you want to travel.
If your car does have rear-wheel drive, you should take your foot off the gas first. If you have front-wheel drive instead, take your foot off the brake and gently accelerate, then turn the wheel gradually toward the direction the back end of your car is swinging. For example: if you’re taking a right turn and the rear of your car starts to swing out toward the left side of the road, turn your wheel to the left to regain traction. It’s possible that the rear of the car will then swing out the opposite way; if that happens, turn the wheel again toward the direction your rear is swinging, and repeat until the tires regain traction.
This is often the scariest kind of skid, occurring when your car turns in full circles and you have little control over its direction. Just like in both understeer and oversteer, focus on a visual target ahead of where you want to go, possibly turning your head as the car spins to keep track of it. Don’t change speed suddenly by braking. Instead, slowly ease your foot off the gas so your tires can better grip the ground once you stop spinning. If your vehicle has anti-lock brakes, pump the brake pedal to prevent your brakes from locking up. Keep the steering wheel straight until your tires regain traction, then pull off to the side of the road to take a breath.
You never know when skids could happen, so being prepared for them is essential. Study these steps so you know what to do if you feel yourself losing control of your car. Consider switching to winter tires and replacing worn-out treads to help your car keep traction with the ground as you drive in ice and snow.