Smart Driving

Max Kvidera | September 01, 2011

On the skids

Knowing what to do before your truck starts sliding may help you avoid a serious crash

The skid you drive away from is often the road situation you avoid in the first place. Stephen Adams, a driver for May Trucking, says, “Develop a defensive driving routine, because what doesn’t seem like a bad habit under normal driving conditions is life-threatening when the weather gets bad. You’ll be prepared for whatever’s in front of you.”

Terry Braginton, lead instructor for the Michigan Center for Decision Driving, says you can’t always avoid every potential skidding situation, but you can control your response. “If you have to hit something, make it a controlled crash,” he says, preferably away from other vehicles.

Skid control covers an eight-hour day in the MCDD driver-training program. The training begins with teaching a driver how to stop through threshold braking, which results in tires gaining maximum traction on the road surface. “We start there because guys who’ve been on the road for 30 years have been taught to pump and stab the brakes,” Braginton says. “The problem is, the closer you get to what you’re looking at and trying to stop, the more excited you get; and the more excited you get, the more brake pressure you put on the system. You end up with locked wheels. Locked wheels lead.”

In any kind of skid, Braginton says to keep your heel on the floor and use your toes to push on the brake. No matter the type of skid, the goal is to keep the wheels rolling. Put in the clutch and separate the power from the drive.

If the truck’s steer tires are turned past 15 degrees, you’ll experience a front-wheel skid: The tire treads have lost control with the road and are “pushed together,” he says. “You’re trying to climb the sidewalls.”

In a trailer jackknife, Braginton says some drivers pull the hand valve, which applies more braking pressure on the trailer. Your aim is to get the trailer wheels rolling again. Maintain steady fuel and “drive it out,” he says. The trailer will continue skidding until the air is exhausted from the brakes and the wheels begin turning again. “Don’t turn into the trailer or you’re going to meet your maker,” he says. Instead, turn away from the trailer.

Other drivers might try to ease off the fuel in the false belief that the tractor is skidding, or try to run from the trailer by applying extra fuel. “They overpower the wheels and create a jackknife on the tractor and trailer,” Braginton says. “When you overpower the drive tires on the tractor, the trailer will pull the truck out from under you. When the tractor digs in and stops, the trailer has to go somewhere. When it comes around, it comes around hard.”

The solution: Recognize your problem as locked wheels, and get your wheels rolling. Remove your foot from the brake, maintain steady fuel, and focus on a target down the road and drive toward it.


Adams, who teaches about defensive driving and skid control, says oversteering is like fishtailing in your car. Your front wheels take a shorter path than desired, your rear end breaks out, and your drive axle loses traction.

To correct, get off the accelerator and keep your foot off the brake. If driving standard shift, disengage the clutch. If driving automatic, put it in neutral. If you’re using cruise control, take it off, because it applies too much acceleration and you lose traction. Turn the vehicle back in a safe direction to finish the correction.

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