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Feature Story:

Skid Control


By Eileen Verity

The author is a safety specialist in the Office of Safety/Health and Environmental Management.


Have you ever lost control of your car during a skid? Have you had that queasy "oh no!" feeling when however you steer the car it won't go in the direction you want?

Whether from snow, rain, gravel or blowing sand--losing control of your car during a skid can be a frightening and dangerous experience. The primary causes of skids are combinations of either turning and braking too quickly or driving too fast and turning. The secret to avoiding skids is to look ahead, be aware of changing road conditions and plan ahead. Preventing a skid is much safer and easier than correcting one.

There are three common types of skids that occur because of loss of traction. During front-wheel skids tires start to slide and the operator loses steering control. The most common passenger car skids are probably rear-wheel skids because there is normally more weight on the front tires than on the rear tires. In all-wheel skids, a combination of high speed and ice, snow, thin mud, water, black ice, or a mixture of water and petroleum acts to lessen the tires' traction on the road.

How can you prevent or recover from a skid? The best way is to be aware of and anticipate road conditions. There are times when you must stop quickly on a slippery road. Hard braking often leads to loss of traction and skids. The methods used for anti-lock brake systems, or ABS, and non­ABS equipped vehicles are different.

If your car has an ABS system, the wheels will not lock up and you can steer around an obstruction. Most people do not know how a brake pedal feels when the ABS system is engaged or that they maintain steering control. Try this in an empty parking lot. Step hard on the brake and keep steady pressure on the pedal. You should feel a normal pulsing in the brake pedal. ABS systems automatically prevent the wheels from locking up so there is no need to pump the brakes.

If your vehicle does not have ABS, there are two methods for quick stopping. For controlled braking, apply the brakes as hard as you can without causing the tires to stop rolling (lock up). Keep steering movements very small. If you must make large steering movements, release the brakes, steer and then reapply the brakes as hard as possible without locking them up. For the second method, start braking, apply the brakes fully until the tires lockup, release brakes at lockup, reapply as soon as the tires start rolling, continue this until the vehicle stops. (This is what ABS does automatically.)

Although it's more difficult than preventing skids, you can recover control of your car when it is skidding. Ease off on the accelerator, especially in snow or on ice, and steer in the direction you wish the front end of the vehicle to go. For good control all steering movements should be smooth.

Other steps to take to make sure skidding doesn't happen to you include keeping the car and tires in good condition and the tires properly inflated. In all kinds of weather, be aware of road conditions, how your car responds and what is happening all around you.

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