Let’s face it, it can be a challenge to drive in rainy weather. The visibility is poor, so you have to drive slower, and your vehicle is not as easy to control; additionally, other drivers can make you nervous. In this blog, we’ll learn the perils and safeguards of motoring on wet roads. You can include these tips as part of a solid safe-driving toolkit to give you understanding and confidence when you’re behind the wheel on wet days.
Today’s Car Technology Helps in Inclement Weather
Today’s vehicles offer advanced technology that can bolster the safety of driving on wet roads. Many have electronic helpers that make it less treacherous to navigate wet roads, and many have computer-controlled features to prevent skidding. The on-board sensors assist with blind spot alerts and anti-collision braking. If you understand what your vehicle's technology can do, what you must do, and how the weather factors into the mix, you’ll be better equipped for safe driving in the rain.
A vehicle equipped with traction control has a speed sensor on each of the four wheels. When the central computer senses that one or more of the wheels is spinning faster than the others, it may engage the brakes on the wheel(s) to reduce loss of steering control.
Sensors on the front of the vehicle measure the distance between your car and the one ahead. If the unit detects that you’re following too closely, the system may engage a combination of safeguards, including audible or visual warnings and/or actually slowing the vehicle down.
Sometimes the intensity of rain changes frequently when driving in between thunderstorms. A computerized wiper system automatically adjusts wiper speed to rain rates, freeing the driver from the distraction of constantly having to change the setting.
The Science of Hydroplaning
If the water is too deep or if the vehicle is going too fast, the tire treads cannot divert the water away from the tire surface quickly enough to maintain traction — this is hydroplaning.
How to Avoid Hydroplaning
There are several factors that will increase the potential for hydroplaning. Know these warning signs and avoid them!
Hydroplaning can be caused by:
- Excessive speed for weather conditions. Drive below the speed limit during heavy rainfall.
- Poor visibility. If you can’t see it, you can’t avoid it. Don’t be afraid to pull safely off to a side street or driveway, and never “hope” you’re on the road!
- Worn tire treads. Water builds up underneath the tire, causing it to glide over the water. Check tread wear and rotate your tires every 6,000 miles.
- Overinflated tires. The tire bulges down in the middle, reducing tread contact with the road and lessening steering control. Follow the PSI recommendations, usually listed on the tire wall, for optimal performance and safety.
- Heavy rainfall or poor road drainage. Driving into a large puddle of water at highway speeds can cause a sudden loss of control; therefore, ponding on roadways is even more dangerous at night, when visibility is reduced. Turn around, don’t drown!
Maintain Your Car for Wet Road Safety
Whether you drive a $5,000 or a $50,000 car, the safety offered by the vehicle is only as good as its maintenance. Keep your vehicle in good shape and it will offer the safest way over wet roads.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, tire treads should be at least 2/32 of an inch deep. There’s an easy way to check the depth of the tire — Using a penny, turn it upside down and insert it into the tire tread. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, then it’s time to get new tires to reduce your risk of hydroplaning.
Tire pressure is also important, be sure to check each tire’s pressure with an air gauge. Overinflated tires provide less traction and underinflated tires provide less steering control.
Ensure Clean Windshield Wipers
Replace windshield wipers if they streak or make excessive noise. The maximum possible visibility is needed when you get caught in the rain.
Fix Those Brakes
Brakes are not as effective in the rain because the friction between the pads and the drum/disc is reduced by getting wet. Listen for odd noises when braking or changes in the way the vehicle stops, and get your brakes serviced immediately if these conditions exist.
How to Drive Safely in the Rain
You may find that the biggest challenge of driving on wet roads is other drivers. Here are some ways to improve your odds for a safe wet-weather excursion as you share the highway with others.
- Allow greater space than usual between your car and the car in front of you on wet roads. The standard rule-of-thumb is two seconds of separation between vehicles on a dry road, with the addition of a couple of seconds safety margin for wet roads.
- Always turn your headlights on when driving in the rain.
- Don’t use your cruise control when driving in the rain because when the vehicle encounters water on the road, it can cause unpredictable speed changes.
- Avoid driving in rainy weather unless the trip is necessary.
Be Prepared for Wet Road Conditions
Driving in the rain doesn't have to be a scary experience. Keep your automobile in good shape, understand how to avoid hydroplaning, and maintain proper spacing from other vehicles.
A helpful way to gauge rainfall and potential driving risks is by using AcuRite Rain Gauges to check your conditions before you hit the road. The AcuRite Atlas® Weather Station with HD Display and Lightning Detection will also provide you with live rainfall rates. These are great assets to have in your all-weather driving toolkit. Safe travels!
Steve LaNore is a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist with more than 30 years forecasting and technical experience. He has provided meteorological consulting for everything from insurance adjusters to court cases and is a nine-time award winning author and broadcaster. LaNore has authored two books available on Amazon. He resides in north Texas near beautiful Lake Texoma.