One of the most confusing things we’re ever taught could be life-threatening.

When we learn to drive, what are we taught to do if the vehicle should go into a skid? Turn into the skid, right? Or turn in the opposite direction of the skid. These instructions are really confusing. Now I’m not saying they are wrong. Technically, they are absolutely the right things to do. It’s just that the advice is not at all clear and therefore unlikely to help.

Imagine that you’re driving down a hill. The road is covered with packed snow that has almost turned to ice. At the bottom of the hill is a stop sign. You apply the brakes to begin slowing down. Your car starts to skid sideways until now it’s facing to the right—and pointed towards the parked cars on the side of the road.

Okay, what do you do? If you recall your driver’s ed class from however many number of years ago, you might think, “Turn into the skid.” But what does that mean exactly? Does it mean turning the steering wheel to the right? To the left? Let’s see, the car is skidding…so the front is skidding to the right and the rear is swinging to the left…so that means I turn the steering wheel to the right…no, left…no, wait…crash!

In that split second when your life is passing before your eyes—or at least your car’s life—it’s very confusing to figure out which way the skid is going and then which way to turn the steering wheel to control it, all while you’re likely experiencing a rush of adrenaline and sheer panic. If you turn it the correct way with proper timing, there’s a good chance you’re going to control the skid and be all right. If you turn the wrong way, there is also a very good chance you’re going to crash into something.

Over the past twenty-five-plus years I’ve taught thousands of drivers how to better control their vehicles, and skid control has been part of that training. And of all the people that I’ve put into a simulation of that very scenario, only one-third of drivers do the correct thing. Another one-third does the exact opposite—they turn the steering wheel the wrong way. And the remaining one-third? They don’t do anything. Well, almost nothing. Many in this group take their hands off the steering wheel, perhaps cover their eyes, scream, and usually slam on the brake pedal—the very last things they should do.


Next week I’ll share a personal experience of driving my (alternating between loved and hated) Lotus Elan that brings this confusing advice into focus.

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