Skid Pan Training And Crisis Evasion

When Extra Driving Courses Are a Bad Idea

For their safety, drivers — and particularly young drivers — should not be encouraged to do crisis evasion courses or skid training. They can now be shown to cause more crashes than they will ever cure.

I was one of the lucky ones — lucky because nobody can deny that skid training is great fun.

The training I got lasted for more than a week on a skid pan (known as a “skid pad” in America) during various stages of driver training to become a traffic patrol police officer in Britain. (1)

But now there is overwhelming proof that the one- and two-day courses that are widely available in evasive emergency techniques, including skid control, are not only serving no useful purpose, but they are also increasing the risk of subsequent crashes; a classic example of a bit of knowledge being dangerous. (8) (9)

Some British police forces use old patrol cars, for skid training, with near-bald tyres inflated to very high pressures, running on concrete which is repeatedly coated with old oil then sprayed (see above) with fine jets of water. The resultant surface is hard even to walk on. Other UK forces now use cradles (see below) which can lift one or more of the car wheels far enough to lose traction, thereby creating whatever skid effects the instructor requires.
Some British police forces use old patrol cars, for skid training, with near-bald tires inflated to very high pressures, running on concrete that is repeatedly coated with old oil and then sprayed (see above) with fine jets of water. The resultant surface is hard even to walk on. Other UK forces now use cradles (see below), which can lift one or more of the car wheels far enough to lose traction, thereby creating whatever skid effects the instructor requires.

This revelation came as quite a shock to me, as I’m sure it has too many of my former colleagues. Having had the benefit of such extensive training, we perhaps naturally believed that even a tiny amount of skid pan experience would benefit anyone because drivers would learn more about handling a car.

Skid cradle
Skid cradle

The fundamental difference, however, lies in that qualifying as an advanced driver and an advanced motorcyclist (for most traffic officers achieving both qualifications) in British police forces can take upwards of 600 hours. Most of this overall duration is spent learning the discipline and attitude necessary for a remarkably safe standard of driving, irrespective of the high speeds at which traffic police officers often have to travel.

And that is the key to this issue: attitude training.

Even after I left the police and became a supervisory driving instructor — and later still when I was invited to become the managing director of an advanced driver training company aimed at ordinary people so that they could learn to drive to the same, possibly unequaled safety standards as British traffic officers — I believed that an element of skid training would be beneficial for all drivers.

But I was wrong… wrong… and at that time, so were all my colleagues and contemporaries.

But at least the truth has now emerged.

And it is simply this: Skills-based [driving] courses currently are, at best, a waste of valuable resources and, at worst, actively harmful to road safety.

Job (1999) suggests that the naive but pervasive belief that great driving skill is a critical road safety benefit persists despite the evidence to the contrary. This faith in skill has led to waste of many road safety resources on numerous skill-based driving courses and advanced skill components in duration (this does not apply to knowledge-based or attitude-based systems). (2)

Job’s research was used in Australia. In Sweden, one finds that: A new course syllabus for skid training was introduced on July 1, 1999. It had been preceded by several years of work by the Swedish Road Administration and the affected organizations (TÖP, Skidcar [Federation of Swedish Skid Tracks], STR, and TR [Associations of Swedish Driving Schools]). Research results from, e.g., provided the impetus for changes in the course syllabus. In addition, Norway showed a negative effect, i.e., drivers had a more significant number of accidents after completing skid training (Glad, 1988). This gave rise to a debate in Sweden, and the National Society for Road Safety NTF took the initiative for a research program that VTI carried out. This research program resulted in proposals that a course syllabus should be formulated with an emphasis on risk awareness, anticipation in driving, and recognition of the driver’s limitations instead of teaching the pupil how to handle the vehicle in critical situations, as in the previous course syllabus (Gregersen et al. 1994)…

During the after-measurement, interviews were held with those in charge of training and instructors once every six months, when they were asked what they thought of the development work and the skid training. The responses reveal a definite positive trend; as time passed, people increasingly accepted the new message and training procedure and thought it wasn’t correct. (3)

From the 31 countries forming the International Commission for Driver Testing (CIECA), do you still teach skid control training to your participants?

Leave out highly technical, emergency reaction training (such as regaining control of a skidding car). Insufficient practice time and the potential for counterproductive effects will likely make such exercises pointless. Trainers with years of technical handling experience should not assume that everyday road users can master such maneuvers in a one-day course and, crucially, be able to execute in a split-second at some random stage in the future. For instance, while emergency braking training is recommended, high-speed braking and avoidance are not unless extreme conditions mean this maneuver is readily needed in everyday driving (e.g., in Scandinavian winter). (4)

From, in Canada, one can read A word of warning: taking a course in more advanced driving skills such as emergency braking, skid control, and collision avoidance maneuvers may create a new risk for you. If the extra skills make you overconfident, that cancels out the advantages of having the skills in the first place. In addition, research has indicated that drivers who take advanced skills courses tend to misuse the skills and have a higher crash rate.

Advanced skills such as emergency braking and collision avoidance are not substitutes for sound risk management. (5)

From Australia, under the heading of ‘Post-Licence Training,’ one finds: Skills-based driver training and education continue to be recommended as potential road safety measures despite consistent evidence (see the review by Christie, 2001) that this approach does not result in road safety gains and may result in increases in crash risk for some drivers.

The ongoing interest in skills-based training most likely reflects a general belief that safe driving involves vehicle control skills and conscious decision-making that can be influenced by education or training. Harrison (1999) discussed the potential value of education and training, given the assumptions it makes about the development of driving skills, and concluded that the potential benefits of this approach were limited to improvements in relatively basic skills relating to vehicle control.

Continued investment in this area is unwarranted, given the consistency of evaluation results. (6)

And in Britain, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) states: There is evidence that driver training courses tend to concentrate on vehicle control skills and place too little emphasis on attitudes, behavior, risk assessment, and hazard perception skills. (7)




(1) Police Driving — the Standards and the Reasons (a DSA web page)

(2) Job R.F.S. 1999 The Road User: The Psychology of Road Safety, Chapter 2, Safe and Mobile: Introductory Studies in
Traffic Safety, J.R. Clark — as discussed in Submission to the Australian Parliamentary Travelsafe Committee, January 2003.
View that document here. See also the transcript of the inquiry of the Travelsafe Committee, dated September 23, 2003, here.

(3) Evaluation of new course syllabus for skid training, VTI rapport 472 (November 2001)

(4) Read the document here from CIECA

(5) Article here, from

(6) Report On Review Of Novice Driver Road Safety Programs (Page 19)
Prepared for NRMA Motoring and Services
By Warren Harrison of Eastern Professional Services Pty, Ltd.
Christie, R. (2001) The Effectiveness of Driver Training as a Road Safety Measure: A Review of the Literature, Report 01/03. Melbourne: RACV

(7) Young and Novice Drivers Education, Training and Licensing; RoSPA, March 2003 (9.13)

(8) Evaluation of an insight driver-training program for young drivers, T. M. Senserrick & G. C. Swinburne (Monash Univ., Australia); 2001.
“Traditional driver-training programs that aim to improve vehicle-handling skills, including maneuvering exercises and skid training, have tended to be relatively ineffective in reducing crashes. Introducing skid training into driver-training programs has been found to increase certain crash types for young drivers. This has been attributed to associated increases in confidence that resulted in greater risk-taking….”

(9) Conflicting goals of skid training; Katila A, Keskinen E, Hatakka M.; Department of Psychology, Univ. of Turku, Finland.
“Efforts to make novice drivers drive more safely on slippery roads using special courses have mainly failed… The exercises may give students the impression that maneuvering skills are more important than anticipating skills. Maneuvering exercises also increase their self-confidence and may lead to underestimation of the risks involved, e.g., driving at higher speed.”