When Should Drivers Use Traction Control?

Traction Control

Traction control has been a standard feature in vehicles since 2012, with good reason. It helps tires stay connected to the road in all types of weather, potentially limiting car wrecks and personal injury.

What is Traction Control, and When Should I Use It?

Traction control is a safety feature that helps a driver maintain tire traction on wet, icy, or slippery roads; up slippery hills; and on curves. Traction control limits wheel-spinning or over-spinning, thereby keeping a car’s tires in better contact with the road’s surface. It is beneficial both while the vehicle is in motion and when a driver accelerates from a stopped position.

Improved contact means potentially fewer accidents when driving in the rain, on slippery surfaces and winding roads, and in adverse weather in general. The traction control system can prevent skids, slides, and hydroplaning.

Traction control should be used all the time. In fact, in most cars, it is always on unless purposely turned off. There are only a few circumstances when a driver should turn it off. Those are outlined below.

How Does Traction Control Work?

Today’s cars include computer systems designed to monitor all types of vehicle operations. This is no different with traction control. The car’s various electrical solenoids and sensors monitor wheel speed and other variables that control how much power is going to individual wheels and suspension systems.

With traction control, the goal is to reduce the potential of tire spin and increase stability on slippery or wet roads.

Car manufacturers will use a system best suited to the car’s size, power, and style. But all traction control relies on sensors embedded into the anti-lock braking systems (ABS).

These sensors monitor the speed of wheels and can detect if one or more have lost traction. If they sense that one wheel is turning faster than another, most traction control systems use a brake connected to the slipping wheel to slow the car. Many systems also reduce engine power to that wheel.

A driver will feel the gas pedal pulsate or hear a grinding-type sound from the engine when traction control engages with almost traction control systems.

Here is an example of traction control in action. A car stops at a red light on a wet road that has some standing water on it. When the light turns green, the driver accelerates, only to find their tires cannot get a hold on the slippery pavement. Traction control will slow the tires’ speed so they can better grip the road, stop spinning, and propel the car forward.

Is Traction Control Different from ABS and Electronic Stability Control (ESC)?

The short answer to this question is yes; they are all different systems with different purposes. The longer answer is that they all work together and rely on sophisticated sensors to know when to engage.

It is easiest to think of the three systems this way: All are designed to help drivers maintain control of their vehicles in adverse driving conditions. ABS helps drivers stop, traction control helps them go, and ESC keeps them on the road.

All these systems work together to make vehicles safer. They automatically engage when needed.

For example, ABS will engage when the vehicle’s sensors detect that one wheel is decelerating slower than the others. It will reduce the brake pressure applied to that wheel, allowing it to turn faster and get back up to speed, preventing a brake lock-up.

With ESC, a complex computer control system applies brakes to individual wheels and reduces engine power to help drivers maintain control of their cars. ESC is beneficial on winding roads or when a driver swerves and tries to regain control. The ESC senses the difference between the intended path and the actual path. It sends signals to the braking systems and engine to reduce power and keep the car on the road.

And as explained, traction control helps drivers keep their grip on the road when road conditions are less than perfect.

Should I Ever Turn Traction Control Off?

Traction control should be kept on for almost all driving situations. Remember that traction control is always on until a driver presses the button to turn it off. There are a couple of circumstances in which it should be turned off:

  • When stuck in mud, sand, or snow. Traction control could do more harm than good in these situations because it would slow down how much the car’s tires will spin.
  • When stuck, it is better to let the wheels spin as much as possible so they can wear down the snow, ice, or mud and, it is hoped, find solid ground and traction. Turn traction control off whenever it is necessary to rock the car because of adverse weather and road conditions.
  • When using snow chains on tires. Traction control could lessen the effectiveness of chains, but it can and should be used with snow tires.

What are Other Tips for Driving in Adverse Weather?

With so many safety features built into today’s cars, drivers can feel more secure about controlling their vehicles on wet, icy, snowy, hilly, or winding roads. But that does not mean a driver can depend solely on the car’s computer to make good driving decisions. Following are additional safety tips:

Plan ahead. Driving in bad weather takes longer. Instead of getting stressed about not making good time or arriving on time, plan for an extended trip. Leave early so that slower driving is not an issue, even if the journey is just across town.

Leave room. It is always a good idea to leave ample room when traveling behind another vehicle. In bad weather, it may take more time to stop, or the car may skid or slide. Having a cushion of space will be invaluable.

Do not speed. Although driving at the speed limit is always important, it is especially beneficial on wet or slippery roads. When a car travels at a high rate of speed, it takes longer for it to stop and for safety features such as ABS and ESC to work effectively.

Prepare the vehicle. Cars need to be prepared to operate in bad weather. Inflate the tires and inspect the brakes. Check oil and fluid levels. Ensure that windshield wipers work well and headlights are clean. Clear the windshield from ice and snow before setting out.

Buckle up. Drivers and all passengers should wear seat belts at all times, but especially in adverse weather. Besides, it is the law in all 50 states.

Stay home. Postpone or cancel the trip if conditions are extremely hazardous. As good as traction control, ABS, and ESC are, they are not fail-safe in extreme weather and road conditions.

Pull over. It is sometimes better to be safe than sorry. A car’s safety features are helpful, but they cannot accommodate all driving conditions. Sometimes it is best to simply pull over to a safe place and wait for better conditions. If on a long trip, consider staying in a hotel until the weather changes.

Minimize distractions. As good as safety features in cars may be, they will never take the place of a focused driver who is not distracted. Distractions can come from cell phones, passengers, loud radios, eating and drinking while driving, and even roadside attractions. Keep distractions to a minimum for safety, and abide by laws concerning cell phone use and driving.

Baltimore Car Wreck Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton are Strong Advocates for Accident Victims

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, reach out to the Baltimore car wreck lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We fight diligently for the rights of drivers who have been injured due to another driver’s negligence. We can help accident victims recover the compensation they deserve for medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online for a free consultation.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.