Two of the most important keys to keeping your car “rain safe” are wipers and tires.
For many people, driving on a rainy day is more hazardous than driving in winter weather. According to the American Automobile Association, wet road surfaces contribute to nearly 1.2 million traffic crashes each year. In fact almost 50 percent of weather-related crashes happened during rainfall, but just 17 percent happened, while it was snowing or sleeting. These statistics can be partially explained, of course, by the fact that many drivers have the good sense to stay home during a bad winter weather. But the statistics also reflect a sobering truth: Drivers often do not respect the rain, and they fail to adjust their driving habits to hazardous conditions.
Safety starts before you drive, and one of your goals should be to see and be seen. Replace windshield wiper blades that leave streaks or don’t clear the windshield in a single swipe. And don’t forget about the wiper found on the rear window on most of today’s crossover and sport utility vehicles. Also, make sure all headlights, taillights, brake lights and turn signals are working properly and be sure to turn on your headlights whenever you drive to boost your visibility. In fact some states require the use of headlights whenever windshield wipers are in use.
Another goal is to be sure your tires have enough tread depth to provide adequate traction on wet roadways. You can check each of your tire’s tread depth by inserting a quarter upside down (Washington’s head) into the tire’s main grooves. If you can’t see the top of Washington’s head, your tires should still be able to adequately channel away enough water to keep a grip on the road surface. If however, you can see space over his head, then the grooves simply aren’t deep enough to maintain good wet traction and you should be shopping for replacement tires.
The air pressure inside your tires also plays an important role when it comes to wet driving conditions. If your tires are overinflated, you can lose grip because not enough of the shoulder tread will stay in contact with the road surface. If your tires are underinflated, the tread grooves will close up which won’t allow water to escape. When a tire’s grooves can’t evacuate the rain, and a layer of water builds between the tire surface and the road surface, hydroplaning occurs. This is a loss of traction that prevents your vehicle from responding to your steering and braking input. If it occurs with all four tires at the same time, your vehicle simply becomes uncontrollable.
Now that we’ve checked out tires, lights, and wipers, here are a few suggestions for driving safely in wet weather conditions:
Slow Down and Leave Room
Focus on staying 3-5 seconds behind the vehicle in front of you in wet driving conditions. Watch the vehicle in front of you as it passes a fixed marker, such as a street light. Then count 3-5 seconds. Allowing extra distance behind another vehicle gives you more time to react if something unexpectedly happens.
Avoid Using Cruise Control
Cruise control is great when driving in dry conditions, but when used in wet conditions, the chance of losing control of the vehicle can increase. Driving in wet weather requires more concentration on every aspect of driving. While braking disengages cruise control, sometimes braking isn’t warranted. Avoiding cruise control allows more options to choose from when responding to a potential loss-of-traction situation, thus maximizing your safety.
Know when to lean on technology, and when not to
While some technologies are not advisable for use during bad weather, others can help. Do not depend on cruise control, adaptive cruise control or forward collision warning systems during the rain. Wet weather may affect the systems’ sensors and reduce their reliability. On the other hand, vehicles equipped with traction-control prevent the wheels from slipping on wet pavement and helps the driver maintain control when stopping or accelerating in the rain.
Responding to a Skid
Even careful drivers will occasionally experience a skid. A skid is defined as when the tires lose their grip. When you feel your car begin to skid, it’s important to not panic. Continue to look and steer in the direction in which you want the car to go. Avoid slamming on the brakes as this will further upset the vehicle’s balance and make it harder to control.
Overall you want to be extra cautious in wet weather. Slow down, avoid hard braking or turning sharply and allow ample stopping distance between you and the cars in front of you. Also, do these things one-at-a-time; brake, turn, then accelerate.
Additional information on safe driving tips can be found here.
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