The idea of losing control of your car, especially if you’re traveling at highway speeds, is quite terrifying. However, if you have a good understanding of what you can do to regain control of your vehicle and you stay calm under pressure, you improve your chances of avoiding a collision. In this article, we aim to provide you with the skills you need to regain control of your car and protect your passengers.
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Understanding the Factors That Commonly Cause a Loss of Control
Many factors can cause even an experienced driver to lose control of their car. Some hazards are caused by the environment, like rain, snow, ice, and fog, which reduce traction and increase the risk of skids. In many cases, poor weather also limits visibility, which makes it difficult for drivers to anticipate hazards and react accordingly. Bad weather can also directly cause a driver to lose control of their vehicle. As an example, hydroplaning can occur when a thin layer of water builds up between a vehicle’s tires and the road, causing the car to lose contact with the surface and making it nearly impossible to steer.
Other factors that can cause a loss of control are mechanical in nature. Mechanical problems can include worn-out tires, faulty brakes, or steering and suspension issues. Any of these issues, whether occurring independently or in coordination with other problems, can compromise a vehicle’s handling and stability. Worn-out tires are especially dangerous, as they reduce traction with the road and increase the risk of a blowout or loss of control. To avoid preventable tire-related issues, check your tread depth and tire pressure regularly. Have your vehicle’s tires rotated or replaced as needed to keep your car as safe as possible.
In addition to mechanical and environmental factors, lapses in driver concentration or judgment can also cause problems. Driving too fast for road conditions can cause a driver to lose control, especially if the road is icy or there is low visibility. Distracted driving, whether caused by texting, eating, or talking on the phone, takes a motorist’s eyes off the road and their mind off the task of driving. These behaviors make it difficult to react quickly to changing road conditions or the behavior of other drivers. Driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or fatigue can further impair a driver’s judgment, coordination, and vision. Driving under the influence is never acceptable under any conditions.
When another person’s negligent or careless driving causes you to lose control of your car, it’s important to note that you may have the foundation of a car accident lawsuit. If you experience a wreck, it’s always a good idea to meet with a local attorney to see whether they think you have a pursuable claim.
It Sounds Tough, But Don’t Panic!
The most important thing to do when you feel yourself losing control of your car is to stay calm. This may sound incredibly difficult, but panic undeniably clouds your judgment and leads to adverse outcomes. Take a deep breath and focus completely on the situation at hand. At this moment, you’ll need to make rational, quick decisions that won’t further increase your loss of control over your vehicle.
Is it Possible to Regain Control of Your Car?
In many cases, quick and decisive action can allow you to take control of your car and avert a tragic outcome. To protect yourself and your passengers, you need to understand and apply the proper steering techniques to counter the effect of an uncontrolled skid. To regain control, you’ll need to know the differences between oversteer and understeer.
When experiencing oversteer, gently ease off the accelerator to gradually slow down the car. You should never slam on your brakes, as this can cause further loss of control. You should notice that the car’s rearward momentum begins to decline, giving you a perfect opportunity to regain control of the vehicle. Steer in the direction of the skid to counteract your vehicle’s movement and straighten out the car.
If you are experiencing understeer, the initial step is the same as if you were losing control due to oversteer. Remove your foot from the gas so that you gradually start to slow down. This allows the front tires to regain traction and give you more control over the vehicle’s direction. As you begin to gain more control over the car’s trajectory, turn the steering wheel in the direction you want to go to help the car regain its intended path. In both cases, gentle and controlled steering is crucial to avoid making the situation even worse.
Use Your Car’s Brakes to Your Advantage
We previously discussed how you want to be sparing in how you apply the brakes if you begin to lose control of your car. Slamming on the brakes can cause a worsened loss of control, resulting in a serious crash. Mastering brake and acceleration management works hand in hand with proper steering to regain control of your car.
If your car has anti-lock brakes (ABS), don’t pump them. Your car’s ABS system should automatically pump the brakes for you, ensuring optimal braking performance and preventing the wheels from locking up. Apply the brakes steadily but gently to gradually reduce your vehicle’s speed without making the skid worse. Slamming on the brakes can lock your wheels and entirely remove your ability to control the car’s direction, so this should be avoided at all costs.
In some situations, tapping the gas to accelerate slightly can be beneficial. You may want to speed up slightly if your vehicle is experiencing understeer. In one such case, you may want to apply the gas if you begin to drift towards the shoulder of the road. However, you should be mindful of the situation and only speed up when you are confident it will help you out of your situation.
What Are Some Specific Situations You Could Encounter?
Understanding how to handle specific emergencies, like hydroplaning on wet roads or dealing with a tire blowout, can further improve your ability to confidently react to a dangerous situation. If you experience hydroplaning, avoid sudden movements and maintain a firm grip on the steering wheel. Let the car slow down gradually by taking your foot off the accelerator. If the car starts to pull to one side, don’t wrench the wheel around to try and correct the skid. Instead, gently move the wheel to counter the movement. Do not slam on the brakes, as this can make hydroplaning even worse. Once the car’s tires re-establish contact with the ground, you can gradually increase your speed again.
A tire blowout requires a different approach. Keep a strong grip on the wheel to prevent the car from veering to the side of the blown tire. As always, avoid slamming on the brakes! Instead, slowly take your foot off the accelerator and allow the car to decelerate naturally. As the car slows down to a safer speed, gradually navigate towards the shoulder of the road and come to a complete stop in a safe location. Once your vehicle is completely stopped, activate your hazard lights so other motorists can see your car. Call for roadside assistance if necessary.
Preventing Situations Causing Loss of Control on the Road
Keeping up with your car’s maintenance schedule can prevent roadway incidents, including loss of control. You can personally check your vehicle’s tire pressure and tread depth regularly. Additionally, a certified mechanic should provide routine inspections of your brakes, steering system, and suspension components. Any issues should be fixed as quickly as possible, and the vehicle should not be driven if there are dangerous deficiencies.
Practicing the roadway principles of defensive driving can significantly decrease your chances of encountering dangerous situations where you might skid or spin out. One of the easiest things you can do is keep a safe distance between your car and the vehicle in front of you. Doing so gives you ample time and space to react to the movement of other drivers or the sudden emergence of hazards. Keep your attention on the road and limit distractions while behind the wheel. As a final note, maintaining a safe speed can reduce the risk of losing control.
Improving Your Confidence Behind the Wheel
Taking defensive driving courses can equip you with valuable skills and knowledge to handle emergency situations more effectively. Courses often include simulations and real-world exercises that allow you to practice what you’d do in an emergency, without any of the risk. You might find that your confidence skyrockets as you learn how to react to and overcome potential driving scenarios!
By increasing your understanding of what might cause you to lose control and how you can overcome it, you keep yourself and your passengers safe while on the road. If an emergency does happen, remember to stay calm and take practical action.
Article Last Updated: December 13, 2023.