My cousins are in a hospital, they had a narrow escape when their car drifted and crashed.

According to Cambridge dictionary, drift always give the impression of slow movement, and I want to write about a fast movement in formal way. What is the right word?

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/drift

  • 5
    Using "drift" in the context of cars doesn't necessarily mean a slow movement. I think that's a fine word to use here. – BruceWayne Oct 20 at 20:19
  • 4
    You need to describe exactly what happened. Did something happen to the car against the driver's will, or was it the driver who did something, intentionally or not? Exactly how quickly did this thing take place? (Both slow and fast are subjective.) – Jason Bassford Oct 20 at 20:23
  • Also, Merriam-Webster has many senses of drift that don't imply slow movement. – Jason Bassford Oct 20 at 20:34
  • 9
    This is impossible to answer without a clear explanation of what happened. Drift is a valid word that might be used, but whether or not it describes what happened depends on what happened... – Darren H Oct 20 at 20:44
  • Actually, my intention was "a fast movement". But I don't know whether it was an intentional driver decision. It is ok, KRyan covers all the cases. – Costa Oct 27 at 8:59
up vote 14 down vote accepted

The correct word to use here depends on what, exactly, happened.

  • If the car lost control, then skid likely describes the situation best. There may be specific kinds of skidding that could also apply.

  • If the driver, for whatever reason, suddenly jerked the wheel and changed the car’s direction, then swerve is the verb for that.

  • If the driver wasn’t paying attention, and gradually moved out of their intended lane into somewhere they didn’t belong, then drift could be used.

  • Alternatively, if the driver was attempting to intentionally skid around a corner at high speed as a racing maneuver, that would also be drifting.

Skid

Skid refers to losing control due to insufficient traction:

Skid

verb

(esp. of a vehicle) to slide unintentionally on a surface

(Cambridge)

So if the violent movement was due to sliding, skid is probably the correct word to use.

If you skid in particular ways, there may be more specific terms for the action, like fishtail or spin out.

Fishtail

verb

to have the rear end slide from side to side out of control while moving forward

(Merriam-Webster)

Spin Out

verb

a rotational skid by an automobile that usually causes it to leave the roadway

(Merriam-Webster)

Swerve

Swerve refers to a sudden change of direction that the driver initiated, rather than due to the car losing control.

Swerve

verb

to turn aside abruptly from a straight line or course

(Merriam-Webster)

Swerve is commonly used to refer to suddenly changing direction to avoid hitting something in the direction you were traveling, that the brakes could not have stopped you in time for. It can also be used in cases where the driver was simply careless, or otherwise compromised (drunken driving will often be described as swerving).

Drift

In the context of driving a car, drift can be used in two very different ways. Which is meant depends on context.

  1. The first is the car drifting with respect to its intended trajectory, which are generally the lanes on the road. This sense of the word is not necessarily specific to driving, but it is often used for driving.

    Drift

    verb

    If someone or something drifts into a situation, they get into that situation in a way that is not planned or controlled.

    (Collins)

    This is a gradual effect, from the car not being precisely aligned with the lanes, and is common with impaired drivers (inebriated, or over-tired, or simply distracted). May result in swerving to right oneself, after drifting away from where you should be.

    Drifting out of lane and swerving back is the hallmark of an impaired driver, and precisely what police look for when pulling over suspected drunk drivers. The entire drift-and-swerve-back style is often described as erratic. Erratic driving is very dangerous, because it both means that the car will not be where it should be (and collisions, by definition, require at least one person to be where they shouldn’t be, since collisions shouldn’t happen), and because it is extremely difficult for other drivers to predict. It can also have cascading effects: someone drifting and swerving forces other drivers to react, maybe forcing them to swerve themselves, amplifying the danger significantly. Responsible drivers recognize erratic driving and leave a lot of empty road between them to avoid this.

  2. The second meaning of drift with respect to driving a car is an intentional skid, used in the context of racing.

    Drifting is a driving technique where the driver intentionally oversteers, with loss of traction in the rear wheels or all tires, while maintaining control and driving the car through the entirety of a corner.

    (Wikipedia)

    Since we’re talking about racing, this usage of drift is associated with driving at very high speed. It is also a very difficult and dangerous maneuver; no one should be using it on a public road (but then, street racing is a thing, so people do—The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is a movie literally named after using the maneuver in illegal street racing).

None of these imply a collision

Skidding, including fishtailing or spinning out, can be recovered from without hitting anything (in a sufficiently open environment, there may well not be anything to hit). Swerving is a dangerous maneuver that can make things worse, but it doesn’t automatically do so—if there is room, it can avoid a collision instead (the big problem is that the sudden nature of a swerve often prevents the driver from taking the time to ensure that there is room). The first sense of drifting is rarely, in and of itself, a problem—usually it’s the symptom of a bigger problem (being impaired and prevented from driving properly). And in the second sense, in the context of a race and a driver with sufficient skill, a drift can be a common and perfectly safe maneuver.

So any of these explain why a collision happened, but if you just say that someone skid, swerved, or drifted, we don’t know that a collision occurred. You would have to use “and crashed,” as you do in your question.

The Oxford Dictionay has skid with an example:

her car skidded and hit the grass verge

It describes a violent and unexpected motion.

My cousins are in a hospital, they had a narrow escape when their car skidded and crashed.

  • 4
    "Skid" is specific: it would only be appropriate if the car lost traction. – Laurel Oct 20 at 16:46

The word I would use is swerve:

If a vehicle or other moving thing swerves or if you swerve it, it suddenly changes direction, often in order to avoid hitting something.
Collins

It is used in exactly the context you are looking for, such as in this caption from The Daily Mail:

Man captures video of drunk driver swerving off road and crashing into trees

  • Nothing in the question suggested that the car swerved. Swerving is caused by the direct (and usually, though not in your example) deliberate) action of the driver – David Richerby Oct 21 at 18:02
  • @DavidRicherby While that’s the most common use of the word, it is also used when it’s not something the driver did such as in the following: teslamotorsclub.com/tmc/threads/… – Laurel Oct 21 at 18:49
  • OK, I agree in that case. Still, nothing in the question suggests any kind of swerve. – David Richerby Oct 21 at 18:51

Swerving and skidding are not the same as drifting. The idea here is that without any violent action, either by the driver (swerving) or by the car encountering a difficult road surface (skidding), it nevertheless moved gradually into the wrong place (drifting).

Although the car's forward speed might have been high, its gradual motion into a dangerous alignment was slow. So the use of the word drift is quite consistent with the Cambridge dictionary.

  • I suspect that the asker's confusion comes from the fact that drifting can also mean deliberately skidding a car while cornering very quickly like this. Unless they're talking about drifting out of a lane due to inattention, I ssupect they mean skidding, rather than drifting, and that it's not a "gradual motion" at all. – David Richerby Oct 21 at 18:10

Its unclear from your question what the circumstances were, but if they lost control because of water on the road, you would say they "hydroplaned off the road." If there were no water, any of the other answers here would suffice.

KRyan's answer is comprehensive, but I'd like to add a term to the list: oversteering.

Drifting is intentional, controlled oversteering (the degree of control, of course, varies with the skill of the pilot). However, drifting (in its first meaning as described by KRyan) carries a strong connotation that the driver was actively attempting to induce oversteer, either for racing or exhibition purposes, which is probably not what happened to your cousins.

Therefore, you can say that they spun out of the road, which is the end result of uncontrolled oversteer.

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