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As we were reminded so recently, automobile crashes happen, and people get hurt. The real tragedy is that so many of these could be avoided if people actually took the trouble to understand how to drive within their limits and their vehicle’s limits, instead of relying on hope and delusion.

A classic driving delusion is the idea that you should power through a corner. A hard lesson from the track is that this idea flies in the face of basic physics. An old racing joke is that hope and hospital are on the same page in the dictionary.

Any time a driver changes the position of the gas, brake or steering wheel, load, and therefore traction, is being moved from one part of the car to another. Under acceleration, for example, load moves to the back. Therefore a car that is accelerating hard will be compromising its ability to steer. It’s that simple, and the effect is pretty much the same regardless of drive system. Equally, a sudden release of the gas pedal will cause a rapid transfer of grip from the rear wheels to the front.

Imagine someone cornering at what they perceive to be a fairly high speed. I use perception here because most drivers reach their limit of competence before they reach the car’s actual limit. The tires begin to squeal, as does the passenger and the family cat. Suddenly, inadvertently, the driver releases the gas pedal. If he or she is lucky, this will simply result in a wobble and an elevated heart rate, along with that funny metallic taste that comes with adrenaline. In the right circumstances though, it’ll result in a spin and an accident. This phenomenon is so common there’s a technical phrase to describe it: trailing throttle oversteer. Trailing in this case means release, throttle is the gas pedal, and oversteer means the back of the car is trying to pass the front.

What should you do if you’re in mid corner, perhaps having added power too soon, and things start to get uncomfortable? The correct response is to ease back on the gas pedal just enough to give the front wheels a bit more traction but not so much as to upset the car’s balance. We call this "breathing" back on the throttle, or feathering back, and it’s an example of the sort of refined touch a good driver needs. If you have jumped off the gas pedal too suddenly, at least be prepared for the likelihood of a rear wheel skid. This is true, again, regardless of your car’s drive layout.

Modern stability control systems are designed to minimize the effect of trailing throttle oversteer. In theory, you can drive with the finesse of an axe murderer and the electronics will do their best to keep you out of trouble. Of course, as anyone with a home computer knows, even advanced technology is prone to sudden and catastrophic failure. In addition, if you truly enter a corner too fast for your car’s capabilities, the electronics will not keep you from an expensive off road excursion.

A couple of points to remember. As often as not, that feeling of panic in mid-corner is caused by incorrect use of eyesight. Train yourself to look further ahead, especially under stress. Remember the racing rule, slow in. fast out. Slow the car down in a straight line, before the corner, so you can concentrate on a clean, safe exit instead of fumbling through the turn.

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