If cars skidded out of control in slow motion, drivers would have time to think, react and possibly avoid the crash.

That's the premise behind a new student training vehicle, dubbed the skid car, unveiled this month. A hydraulic device lifts a moving car's wheels and puts the car into a slow-motion skid, simulating conditions on snowy, icy or wet pavement."We can put the students into that exact same environment, only we can do it at very, very low speed, reducing the risk" of accident or injury, instructor Dane Pitarresi said. Eighty-five percent of accidents begin with a skid, he said.

"Let them make their mistakes in a safe environment so when they do get on the road, they are equipped with the experience to handle situations as they arise," he said.

The skid car is controlled with a hand-held panel operated by the instructor. Two black knobs adjust the front or rear hydraulic system, sending the car into a front or rear skid. A red button in the center returns the car to the driver's control.

Portland driver education students will be the first in the nation to use the skid car in a one-year pilot project, said Matthew Prophet, superintendent of the Portland School District.

The state Motor Vehicles Division will compare the driving records of students in the pilot program to those of students who took conventional driving lessons, said driver safety manager Peter Nunnenkamp.

Toyota Motor Sales USA, the American arm of the Japanese auto maker, will contribute $100,000 and three 1991 Camry sedans equipped with the hydraulic devices.

Pitarresi, president of Pitarresi Motorsports, Inc., has given private lessons to about 500 people while perfecting the student program.

"The skid car was really a good opportunity to learn to drive on ice or snow," said Sarah Piper, a recent student. "I haven't experienced a skid yet, so I don't know what's going to happen. But I feel more confident about it now."