Automotive, Automotive Safety & Rules of the Road, Road Test Special, Winter Driving

Road Test Special: Skid School – Why EVERYONE Should Attend

One morning in early November, I had the privilege to benefit from a one-on-one skid school lesson from Skid Control School (SCS) owner/instructor Doug Annett in Oakville, Ontario. Doug’s Skid Control School has been around since 1967 and is one of the premier skid schools in Ontario.

Too many times you see drivers just sitting in the car driving with that glazed look in their eyes, obviously a passenger behind the wheel instead of someone actually driving the vehicle! All of us need to be continually advancing ourselves and our driving skills.Skid Control School (SCS), Iain Shankland, Because the school is booked solid, Doug offered me this unique opportunity for my readers, so I received an 8-hour lesson condensed to approximately 3 hours.

The regular course starts at 8:30 am and provides 2 hours of in-class instruction followed by 90 minutes of in-car instruction – putting into practice the skills learned in the classroom. After lunch (provided), it’s back out on to the skid pan for a more intensified version of the morning’s lessons behind the wheel, as well as an on-road evaluation where you put into practice your new-found skills in the real world. The day ends around 4:30pm.

While the classroom instruction was in session, Doug sat down with me and explained the advantages of enrolling in skid school. Quickly I learned that many of his viewpoints mirrored my own. Perhaps it was because we were both former driving instructors for Young Drivers of Canada, or perhaps it is just our love of driving and learning to better ourselves and teach others that caused us to agree on so many issues.

Most of the Skid Control School’s customers come from large corporations such as Union Gas and Ontario Power Generation (Hydro), and the like. Risk Reduction Management Departments in many companies are realizing the benefits of sending drivers to school for driving skill upgrades, and in some cases first-time advanced training in an effort to not only save the company money, but also to prevent workplace injuries. It’s more than just a bent fender that comes into play, it’s injuries and lost wages due to automotive accidents. Add in the cost to re-train or to hire and train new people and you get the idea. Everyone wins when the people driving company cars and trucks are better skilled. Companies prefer having their employees out selling or servicing customers rather than lying in a hospital bed as a result of preventable motor vehicle accidents.

Doug also pointed out the logic of parents sending their kids for advanced driver education. Parents think nothing of sending the kids off to dance lessons or various sports because “it’s good for them,” but these same people aren’t willing to spend $500 for proper driver training. They’ll spend thousands of dollars for “Fun Development” and then cheapen out when it comes to training that could very well save their child’s life!

The course emphasizes Vision – Decision – Action, and teaches students better observation skills in day-to-day driving, such as the most dangerous part of driving: the intersection. Too many people drive through intersections without even looking left or right. How many people have been caught out when a police car or ambulance comes up to an intersection? Or maybe a police chase? Just because a light is red, it doesn’t mean the driver has actually seen it and is going to stop. We must see what’s happening around us so we can react to it.

We’re all guilty of being a little lazy behind the wheel. Do you drive with both hands on the wheel or are you one of those people (mostly guys) that droop the hand over the top of the wheel and steer with your wrist? Are you aware of the drivers around you or do you drive with “blinders” on?
Skid Control School (SCS), Iain Shankland,
Athletes train and focus mentally on the job at hand, yet we take our lives and other’s lives in our hands every day when we jump behind the wheel, with no preparation and in too many cases no formal training what-so-ever. Huge advances have been made in sports to make athletes better and stronger, but driving has basically been at a standstill since the 1930’s.

Doug and I talked about our experiences as driving instructors. When I passed my test it was basically a drive around the block. Five minutes and I’d passed my test. Doug thought he’d failed his test because his was so short. He thought he’d done something wrong at the first turn and failed the entire test, but he in fact passed! When I was a driving instructor I wouldn’t take my students to the test area of the city until immediately before the test, while other driving schools would only “teach” in that area. They were teaching people to pass the test – NOT how to drive a car! My students were shocked when I told them unless they actually hit a parked car, there was no way they could ever fail the test by botching a parallel park.

Taking instruction at a skid school is an excellent opportunity to try manoeuvres without any harm to you or your own car in a contained environment. You get the chance to break bad habits – habits we know are wrong – things we’ve been taught not to do, such as braking while in a skid. You learn the importance of using your eyes – where to look in an emergency – good habits you will use in everyday life on the road.

Getting behind the wheel of the car and setting out to the skid pan, I now had the opportunity to put into practice what I’d learned during my shortened version of the classroom theory session.

The first and most important skill we reviewed was the use of peripheral vision. Setting out, we drove slowly through the pylons while looking way down the road at a landmark sign. Then, using my peripheral vision I manoeuvred through the cones and turned around. By keeping our eyes up and looking down the road we’re able to see and anticipate potential problems before we arrive on the scene.

On my first run through the skidpad I was told to turn into the left lane to avoid an imaginary truck/accident up ahead (it’s marked by a sign way down at the end of the road). Wipeout! I was spinning within seconds of attempting my lane change. It was a trick, but it clearly emphasized the point. The strip is set up to simulate traveling at 100 km/hr even though you’re only traveling at ½ that speed. You wouldn’t make the same correction of the wheel at 100 km/hr as you would at 50, so I had to adjust my use of the wheel and just barely move it.

Skid Control School (SCS), Iain Shankland,
Skid Control School (SCS), Iain Shankland,
Skid Control School (SCS), Iain Shankland,

Next up was keeping my eyes up and looking way down the road – in this case a landmark sign across the road from the skidpad. This wasn’t an issue for me because of my past experience as a driving instructor – that’s one habit I’ve never lost, but others could have a difficult time trying to remember and force themselves to keep their eyes up, looking a long way down the road. The key to this exercise is to focus on where you want to go and therefore avoid the accident/blockage while driving on an ice-covered road. Using your peripheral vision you steer and correct your manoeuvres. Once again this forces you to go against your natural inclination which is to look at the problem. After a few deliberate wipe-outs, I was given the opportunity to actually keep control of the car during the exercise, and then I moved on to controlling the car while braking, then braking and steering while avoiding the obstacle.

I asked Doug if there was any preferred method of handling the steering wheel – palm it, two hands or shuffle steer? He said whatever gets the job done is the way to do it – the fastest way is the one that’s best for you. Palming it is the most difficult because of the hands slipping while turning the wheel at the key time. Shuffling (the stupid way they teach you in the U.K. – my words, not his), is too slow to adapt to the counter correction. I found I used a combination of the hand over hand and the shuffle while controlling the car (I’ve never been taught the shuffle method at any time).

Doug pointed out that during the initial skid, the natural inclination is to correct the first slide but you lose complete control on the return swing of the car’s rear end. The key is to work HARD at steering – against your natural inclination – to get the car under control. As he put it, “steer like crazy”!

During the braking techniques, I got more opportunities to wipe-out. With the ABS switched off, I had to correct for the rear end kicking out, and then doing a lane change and finally the most important point: feather braking. I’d been taught to use the Threshold Braking where you slam the brakes and hold them just short of lock-up. Doug pointed out: how do you determine just short of lock-up? How do you know the limit and then brake just short of it? With feather braking you learn to apply the brakes harder and harder until you stop safely and in a reasonably straight line. Amazingly after trying it, it makes so much sense – again going against what I’d been taught in the past! My stops shortened dramatically with practice after each run through the skidpad.

Next, we pushed the speed up from 50 to 60 km/hr and ran through the pad. The stopping distance lengthened considerably! Previously we tried it at 40 km/hr and the stopping distance was very short, but with each 10 km increment in speed, the stopping distance increased far more than I’d ever have imagined. I consider myself to be very good at bringing a car to a full-stop in a very short distance no matter what speed I’m traveling, but just this simple demonstration emphasized the effects of a little more speed – a far greater stopping distance!

After switching the ABS back on we tried several runs at straight-forward stopping, and then Doug threw in some runs with the rear end stepping out. This really drove home the importance of ABS brakes. It’s consistent and predictable in how it operates, removing one more unknown from an emergency situation. As I’d demonstrated, I could stop the car sooner using the feather braking than with ABS – but that was after considerable practice in the same situation. The point is that there are no “Do-Over’s” in an emergency if you get it wrong – ABS dramatically removes the unknown and makes stopping consistent.

Doug was eager to have me express his strong feelings about ABS, as he feels ALL manufacturers should make Anti-lock Brakes standard in ALL vehicles. Give customers CONSISTENT braking and stopping in an emergency.

The final session was a run through the skidpad while braking and steering. Once again the ABS comes to the fore in how beneficial it is, not only in stopping but also in-vehicle control – it’s the difference between stopping or hitting another vehicle, or slowing down quickly enough and remaining in control of the vehicle so that you can avoid an accident. After that brief demonstration, I have even more respect and awe for the Anti-lock Braking System.

Doug’s big complaint is that GM touted ABS and put it into even the base Cavalier models a few years ago, but now they’ve changed it to make it optional – all while the costs of ABS have been coming down!

Doug deals with a lot of large corporations that send their people for advanced driver training and upgrades. He explained that the trouble with having a customer service rep or salesperson in a company car is that they don’t necessarily keep up to date with safety advances that their vehicle is equipped with, because they aren’t the ones going out and buying the vehicle – someone else is. If their car has ABS, that’s great, but what about the rental car – does it have ABS? If you base your stopping and driving on a vehicle that has ABS, but the rental doesn’t have it – that’s a huge problem. If you’re on the road regularly for your job – knowing your car, its equipment and how to drive it becomes an additional task you need to consider. But how many do?

When I contemplated that, I was shocked. I’d never given it a thought whenever I’ve picked up a rental car at the airport -whether it had ABS or not! Or what about your friend’s car that you borrowed for a day, any car you’re not familiar with? For me personally, I’ve had ABS brakes in my cars for the past 15 years or more, but I don’t even think about it when I’m driving another vehicle, that’s a scary thought. From now on, I’ll be checking the dash for that ABS light whenever I climb behind the wheel of an unfamiliar car.

The final part of the program is the road test where we went out onto the local streets to put into practice what I’d just learned in the confines and safety of the skidpad. Doug again emphasized the importance of keeping your eyes focused way down the road so that you can see and anticipate any potential hazards from drivers or pedestrians. He also emphasized that by looking well ahead you’re able to plot where you’d be looking if you get into a skid. This may seem like work, but by conditioning yourself to do it, you make it a habit and something you no longer have to “think about” as you drive.

Doug pointed to a large truck that was coming toward us on a bend in the road. He pointed out that drivers have a great deal of faith that the oncoming car or truck is going to stay on its side of the dividing line, or that cars at an intersection would actually stop as you’re driving through it. We have to be aware of all obstacles so that we can react quickly if things don’t go as we had expected.

We returned to the school just as that morning’s class were going through their in-car training on the skidpad. We watched as a couple of the cars went through the manoeuvres that I’d completed a short time earlier. I thought to myself – there are twelve more people that will be far superior drivers in just a few more hours – hopefully they’ll remember everything they learn today.

One unique aspect of Doug’s Skid Control School in Oakville is the road feature. It’s one thing to learn on the skidpad in a controlled environment – where to look and what to do, but it’s completely different when you’ve got all the distractions of everyday driving, such as people, cars and traffic lights.
I hope everyone takes the opportunity to consider attending a skid control school (or the like) in your area.

In the United States, there’s an automobile accident every 5 seconds! That’s 20 per minute or 1,200 per hour.

Sooner or later each of us are going to be involved in a motor vehicle accident – it’s just a matter of time. Or is it? By being prepared and knowing what to look for, as well as what to do to prevent an accident, you increase the chances of avoiding accidents. I’ve been in a couple of car accidents, but I wasn’t driving – in each case, the cause was driver error. I’ve avoided many accidents because of my driver training – instinct took over and I didn’t even have to think about what I had to do. But if I hadn’t been taught those instincts, there would have been a very different outcome.

I encourage you to contact a school NOW, before it’s too late. Yes it will cost you a bit of money, but not as much as you’d pay out in deductible for an accident. Most schools also qualify to give tax receipts, so you can deduct some if not all of the expense against your taxes. What are you waiting for? Just do it!!
Skid Control School (SCS), Iain Shankland,
Many thanks to Doug Annett for taking the time to speak with me, and for showing me the enormous value that Skid Control School offers. Apart from the lessons learned, it’s was a very enjoyable experience – one I highly recommend. For more information contact the school at:
Contact Information 
576 Bronte Road
Oakville, Ontario
L6L 6S1

SCS Training Facility: 905-827-5413
Fax: 905-827-7432
Reservations/ General Information: 1-888-516-6522

Copyright © 2011 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Gail Shankland

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