When A Car Loses Control

It doesn’t matter whether its loss of life, injury, damage to vehicles or building, or other things like roadways, public lands, or societal infrastructure – out of control vehicles are a major concern to everyone, especially those on the road.

Sometimes drivers lose control because of rain which makes roads slippery or a deluge blinding the driver by overwhelming the wipers’ ability to clear it. When there are curves, bottlenecks, or obstacles, this only gets worse. An older vehicle is even more at risk, susceptible to break failure, suspension problems, or even blow outs. If the driver is under the influence of an intoxicant, anything goes. It doesn’t matter if the weather is perfect, your car is completely tuned up, or you are a seasoned track driver, it is always best to slow down when approaching a corner.

Bad habits like driving too closely behind another vehicle or by wandering in and out of one’s lane are big mistakes too. If you see someone driving erratically, it is best to keep your distance. If it is safe to do so, use your hands-free phone to contact 911 and report the driver, it could save lives.

As mentioned, driving in rainy conditions comes with the risk of hydroplaning. The treads of a good all-weather tire are designed with channels where the water displaced by the tire can be funneled away, allowing for a good connection between the rubber and the road. If the treads are worn down too far, or the tire is not rated for rainy weather driving, the water can separate the road and the rubber, causing it to lose contact and traction. In the Southwest, where it is often hot and dry, a sudden rainstorm can cause one to quickly lose control. If this happens to you, don’t panic, don’t make any sudden moves – of course that’s easier said than done.

For reasons we won’t discuss in this note, water displaced by the tire, which isn’t funneled into the water channels, tends to move along in front of the tire. For these reasons it is important not to drive through large puddles or any water where depth cannot be accurately anticipated. Besides, any pedestrians nearby won’t appreciate taking an impromptu shower as they amble by.

When applying the brakes, it is important not to hit them too hard, apply gentle pressure to the pedal, ease off, and then do it again. Cars with an automatic braking system (ABS) automatically follow this procedure. This process can help ensure that once the tires get traction, they are able to maintain it, rather than going into an uncontrolled skid. Steer the vehicle in the required direction, but don’t make any sudden changes. A quick jerk of the steering wheel will likely cause you to skid in the opposite direction.

If your brakes fail completely there are a couple of things you can do. First, try gearing down, meaning shifting the car into a lower gear. This uses the engine’s gears to control speed. Be mindful of the tachometer which shows how fast the engine is revving, if it goes to high (into the red) it could cause irrevocable engine damage (although a crash won’t do it much good either). Whether or not shifting gears helps, your final option is to use the emergency brake. It is designed for exactly this purpose, for use in an emergency – when all other options have failed.

Just to be sure, before an emergency arises, test your emergency brake by putting your car on a small hill, take your foot off of the brake pedal, and as the car slowly starts to roll, pull up on the emergency brake handle (or push the pedal if that’s the design of your vehicle).

With any luck you won’t lose control when driving, but if you do, hopefully these instructions will help you safely navigate the situation.

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