There’s plenty of writing, including by me, about driving on roads slickened by ice and snow each winter. Those discussions are meritorious, but many winters here, and seemingly this one, produce more rainy drives than snowy ones.
Reduced visibility, loss of lateral traction and potential vehicle lift (hydroplaning) are all direct consequences of rainfall on our roadways. Just last year I witnessed a victim of hydroplaning from the oncoming lane careen through a grassy median and go airborne before his vehicle returned to earth just ahead of me in my lane. If I were a couple seconds earlier, it would have been difficult to avoid having his 4-door pickup land on top of me.
Such loss of control comes suddenly when too-great of a layer of water beneath one’s tires actually lifts the vehicle, negating function of brakes and steering. If you feel your vehicle begin to “float,” lift accelerator pressure to hopefully reduce speed and regain steering control before linear stability is lost.
Here are some universal tips for driving in rainy conditions:
1. When possible, move to the middle lanes during torrential downpours. Most freeways are crowned in the middle to move rainwater to the outside shoulder.
2. Replace wiper blades annually. Even blades that appear normal can be hardened and chipped, causing streaking and inefficient swiping. You’ll get optimal visibility when it’s most needed with new blades.
3. Use extra caution at intersections, on and off ramps, and parking lots. Road oil accumulates more in low-speed areas, making them slicker by comparison to other wet stretches of road.
4. Don’t use cruise control when it’s raining. Adapt the rule of turning cruise control off when wipers are on. Cruise control can actually cause a loss of control on wet roadways by applying accelerator when a vehicle is hydroplaning. For certain, it slows your ability to recognize and react to sudden changes in road conditions.
5. Maintain good tire tread. Poor tread and speed contribute to loss of traction. New tires have 10/32nds to 12/32nds of an inch of tread depth. Tread depth allows water to pass under your tires instead of creating a cushion of water leading to lift. 2/32nds is minimum legal tread, but in my opinion, tires become unsafe in heavy rain with less than 5/32nds of an inch of remaining tread.
6. Drive in the tracks of the vehicle in front of you on wet roads. Other cars’ tires displace water on the roadway, giving you a drier surface.
7. If your car has antilock brakes (standard equipment by 2004), brake normally if you skid on a wet road. Pump the brakes only if your car is not equipped with antilock brakes.
8. Tap your brakes lightly after driving through a puddle to help dry them. But avoid driving through standing water unless you know it’s very shallow.
9. Turn on your headlights no matter the time of day when it’s raining. You’ll greatly improve other drivers’ ability to see you. Similar to the cruise control rule: Wipers on, headlights on. That’s a law in some states, and some vehicles even activate lights with when wipers are on.
10. Slow down. The most important safety precaution to practice while rain driving is to reduce vehicle speed. As a result, you’ll lessen your risk of hydroplaning and give yourself more time to stop on slick roads.
Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at email@example.com.