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May 2014 Newsletter

How to Handle Hydroplaning

April showers have arrived. Which means that beyond the usual distractions, there’s another road risk: heavy rains.

Dangerous driving conditions aren’t exclusive to winter weather phenomena like snow and black ice. If you underestimate the danger of driving in heavy rain, you expose yourself and your car to a possible accident. That’s because heavy rain storms not only limit your visibility—they also hamper vehicle traction and can cause your car to hydroplane.

Hydroplaning is especially common in these rainy spring months. It’s a scary situation, because like black ice, you no longer have control behind the wheel. Research actually shows that more than 12 percent of car accidents involve wet pavement conditions.

If you don’t know how to handle hydroplaning, this series will give you information on how to stay safe on wet roads. You might have heard some tips before–but there’s a good chance you never considered some of them. (For instance, did you know your tires play a major role in how you handle hydroplaning?)

Here’s what we’ll cover in this series:

What is hydroplaning? You’ll learn not only what hydroplaning is, but why it occurs and when it is most likely to happen.

How can I prevent my car from hydroplaning? Learn some simple safety checks worth doing before you head out on the road. Also learn what dangers to watch for during your drive so you stop a problem before it starts.

How should I drive in heavy rain? Downpours present real dangers. Learn what you can do to avoid hydroplaning, improve your visibility and reach your destination safely.

What should I do if I start hydroplaning? Sometimes even the most careful drivers still end up hydroplaning. Learn how to recover when your car loses contact with the road.

Are you ready to find answers to these questions? Then let’s get started.

 


What is Hydroplaning
?

It starts like a scary story, with a dark and stormy night. You’re headed home when suddenly you lose control of your vehicle and slide across one lane, two lanes or more before you end up on the shoulder. Though rain pelts your windshield, you feel as though you just drove on ice. In reality, you have just hydroplaned.

So what is hydroplaning? In short, hydroplaning – sometimes called aquaplaning – occurs when the tires of your vehicle lose contact with the road beneath them in wet or rainy conditions.

This most commonly occurs during heavy rain storms when water is pooling on the roads faster than it can drain. Vehicles traveling on wet roads at speeds too fast for the wet conditions can fall victim to hydroplaning.

Why does hydroplaning happen?

As you travel on a wet road, your car’s tire treads are responsible for clearing water away from the road in order to maintain traction. When your vehicle is moving faster than the tires can remove the water, pressure forces water beneath the tires. This prevents the tires from gaining traction. Once your tires lose their grip on the road, your car is vulnerable to hydroplaning.

Any wet road surface can present a hydroplaning danger, but the first 10 minutes after it rains are the most treacherous. During this time, rain mixes with the oil residue on the road, creating a slippery mixture that increases the risk of hydroplaning.

Hydroplaning doesn’t mean you can’t drive in wet conditions. It should, however, motivate you to recognize potential dangers and to act accordingly. Learn some simple steps you can take to prevent hydroplaning in the next post.

 


How Can I Prevent My Car from Hydroplaning
?

When your vehicle hydroplanes, you lose the ability to gain traction, steer effectively and brake. This makes hydroplaning one of the most dangerous driving conditions.

This begs the question, how do I prevent hydroplaning when driving? The key is to have a plan ahead of time and to prepare your vehicle to operate effectively in slippery conditions. Well before rainy conditions arrive, you should:

Check your tires and wiper blades. Your tires are your first line of defense against hydroplaning because they clear water away from the road, which allows you to maintain traction. Make sure your tires are ready for the task by ensuring they are properly inflated. Also go a step further and inspect your tires. Rotate or replace any tires that are showing significant tread wear.

Know the roads. You may not know exactly where water has collected on the roads, but certain safety rules generally apply. You are safer driving in interior lanes as opposed to exterior lanes. This is because water drains to the outer lanes before it runs onto the shoulder. You should also avoid any standing puddles—going through them only exposes your vehicle to unnecessary risk.

Drive smart. Safe driving during wet conditions is as much about the outside weather as it is about how you handle your vehicle. When you head out on wet roads, slow down to give your tires a chance to scatter water.

Also avoid sharp turns or hard stops, which put a burden on your tires. Remember to turn off your cruise control for the entire trip, even if it is a long drive. This will prevent your vehicle from maintaining the desired speed, which is dangerous if your car hydroplanes.

Next, learn some tips on how to drive when heavy rains pour down.

 


How Should I Drive in Heavy Rain
?

Heavy rain can easily lead to hydroplaning.

So how can you drive safely in heavy rain? Here are five tips to keep in mind:

Take some extra precautions. This means slowing down and observing the three-second safe driving rule (which says you should pick a landmark that the car in front of you just passed and count to three, making sure a full three seconds passes before you cross the same spot to ensure you are a safe distance from the car in front of you ). This is especially important when following large trucks and buses, since the water sprayed from their tires may hit your windshield and limit your vision.

Maintain your visibility. Turning your headlights on is an easy way to drive safely in heavy rain. Flip on your lights whenever a weather condition threatens your vision. This includes heavy rain as well as fog. If conditions are especially bad, consider turning on your four-way flashers.

Stick to paved surfaces. Driving off-road during wet conditions jeopardizes the traction your tires have on paved surfaces because mud and other debris can collect on them. You should also avoid traveling through puddles or open-water areas – their depth may surprise you.

Stay in your vehicle during lightning storms. If the weather outside has become too bad to continue driving or if your car breaks down during a thunderstorm, make sure you stay in your vehicle. Your car provides you with insulated protection against a nearby lighting strike. You won’t enjoy this protection standing out in the open.

Stay home if possible. Sometimes the simplest safety measure is the most effective. Unless you absolutely have to travel, stay in.

In the final post, you’ll learn the best ways to handle things if you end up hydroplaning despite your best efforts.

 


What Should I Do if I Start Hydroplaning
?

If you can’t avoid traveling on wet roads altogether, it’s best to drive slow and steady. But what should you do if you start hydroplaning anyway?

The first thing to do is relax, as frantic movements will only make your situation worse. As you feel your car lose contact with the road, calmly but firmly grip the steering wheel with both hands. Don’t slam on the brakes or make dramatic motions with the steering wheel – these actions will jeopardize your control of the car.

Instead, aim the nose of your vehicle forward and calmly make slight adjustments with the steering wheel to keep your vehicle going in the right direction. Then take your foot off the gas and allow your car to slow down naturally as you continue to navigate. Resist the urge to slam on the brakes.

But what if you are going to hit something?

If you’re heading toward another car, tree or median, then you may be forced to apply the brakes. How you should apply the brakes depends on the car you drive.

If your car is equipped with regular brakes, pump them regularly and lightly as you continue to steer in the direction you want to go. If your car has anti-lock brakes, you should brake as normal by applying steady pressure to the brakes. Just try not to slam on the brakes. The process for braking when you’re hydroplaning is actually very similar to braking when you’re skidding on ice.

Hydroplaning is scary, but you truly can handle it with extra precaution and a little knowledge.