Should a slide on a skid pan be a part of the UK driving test?

Unless you’re an experienced drifter, you probably don’t know what to do if your car goes into a spin. The fact is, for most regular drivers, the natural response to an icy slide, is exactly the opposite of what you are supposed to do.

One of the reasons the UK’s roads come to a slithering halt during a torrential downpour, or at the mere sniff of snow, is that we just aren’t prepared. That goes for the roads and our lack of driving expertise.

Many accidents occur on UK roads each year as a result of poor driving skills in wet or icy conditions. At least a quarter of accidents are caused by distraction, which may be followed by over or under steering. Many are due to a lack of knowledge about what to do when your car goes into a skid. The fact is, learning how to stay in control of your car could save you having a collision.

Drivers in other European countries, such as Finland, where snow and ice are more prevalent, have to be able to demonstrate skid control as a compulsory part of their driving tests. In fact, Finland and Denmark are some of the hardest places in the world to pass a driving test.

The UK roads are amongst some of the safest in the world, yet road collisions are the biggest killer of young people. Recent changes to the UK driving test are aiming to address some of the problems and equip drivers with the skills they need to use our roads safely. Sliding on a skid pan isn’t one of the compulsory updates, despite loss of control being amongst the top five causes of UK road traffic accidents.

The UK driving test

The biggest changes to the UK driving test in a generation have just come into play. The main changes are:

  • Learners taking their test will have to drive without any guidance for 20 minutes (this has doubled from the previous 10 minutes)
  • The introduction of sat navs. Learner drivers taking their test will need to follow directions of a route programmed by the examiner
  • Parallel parking, parking in a bay, or pulling up on the right-hand side of a road, plus reversing an pulling away again will now replace reversing around a corner and the 3-point turn
  • There will be two questions asked about safety tasks during the test

Skidding terms explained

What is a skid? It’s where your vehicle’s tyres lose traction on the roads surface. While new technologies have been instrumental in preventing cars from skidding, poor driving skills and poor road conditions can still combine to send your vehicle into a slide. Anti-locking brakes (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC) and traction control all work to help prevent your car from skidding.

What causes a car to skid? Too much acceleration, too much braking, or too much turning force for the road’s surface (usually wet or icy conditions).

What is oversteer? When the rear wheels of the vehicle lose traction and the front wheels don’t. There are two types of oversteer: power oversteer and lift-off oversteer. Power oversteer is where there’s too much acceleration and the wheels spin – it’s the technique used in drifting to achieve power slides, and only happens with rear-wheel drive cars.

Lift-off oversteer is where you are already turning and you do something like brake, take your foot off the accelerator, or change down a gear. Any of these actions put more weight over the front of the car and less at the back, hence less grip on the rear tyres causes a skid.

What is understeer? It’s where you turn a corner, but the front wheels slide sideways causing the car to travel forwards rather than turning. Understeer is caused by turning a corner too fast or accelerating too fast as you exit a corner. It can easily be rectified by taking your foot off the accelerator.

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What is hydroplaning? It’s where your tyres rise up on a layer of water because the tread on your tyres isn’t able to disperse the water fast enough, and the car loses traction and slides. The hydroplaning vehicle doesn’t respond to control input, but there is safety advice on what to do to avoid hydroplaning.

What is wheelspin? It’s where the driver applies too much throttle and the turning force of the wheels exceeds the grip available from the surface of the road. It’s often seen in drag racing at the starting line-up.

How to steer out of a skid

When asked, most people will give the incorrect answer about how to steer out of a skid. So, what should you do if your car veers into a sudden skid? Completely clueless folks try to steer the car the opposite way, which just sends the car further into the spin with potentially drastic consequences.

Then those who have grasped the concept of steering into the skid, do so with so much gusto, the car just slides in the opposite direction. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to move the wheel – you do. All you do is simply point the car where you want it to go. Turn your wheels in the direction the back of the vehicle is sliding. Don’t overcorrect and don’t hit your brakes.

Experiencing a skid and spin in a car, in controlled conditions on a skid pan, could prove to be life-saving. Things happen very quickly when a car slides and without experience it’s no wonder many fail to pull their cars out of a skid.

The practicalities of introducing skid pan experience into the UK driving test frame make it unlikely it will become mandatory. But, there’s nothing stopping individuals wanting to make sure they are prepped for anything on the roads taking advanced driver or skidpan training.

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