Here in the Midwest, we have experienced our fair share of rain. Wet roads mean more accidents and wet pavement contributes to nearly 1.2m million traffic crashes each year. Even more, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) supports the claim that driving on a rainy day is more dangerous than driving on a snowy one. Need more proof of the dangers of driving in the rain? Based on 10 years of data, the NHTSA also found that 46% of weather-related crashes happened during rainfall while only 17% occurred while it was snowing or sleeting. This can be partially blamed on the caution drivers use during winter-weather conditions as opposed to rainy weather conditions. All too often, drivers don’t adjust their driving habits to accommodate hazardous conditions such as rain.
There are some tips you can follow that can help you stay safe the next time you get caught in the rain.
Keep your car clean & maintained
The first step to staying safe on the road is to keep your car in driving shape. Visibility is the key to driving safely, especially when it is raining. Start by regularly cleaning your windows inside and out and make sure your defroster and windshield wipers are in working condition. If they’re not, fix them now before you get stuck in a dangerous situation.
Ensuring that your lights are all in working condition is not only important if you drive at night, but also when it rains. Double-check your headlights, brake lights, turn signals, tail lights, and running lights. This can also save you from getting pulled over if a cop notices an issue. Remember, states have laws requiring headlights to be used in certain situations, sometimes including rain. Double-check your state’s requirements here.
Your tires are another important part of your car that needs to be maintained for safe driving. Tire tread allows your tires to maintain traction on the road. Without a safe level of tread, your tires can’t adhere to the road and you may skid, slide, or hydroplane more easily on wet roads. Tires with 2/32 of an inch or less of tread can be dangerous, even in dry conditions.
Slow down and leave space
Many people have heard the rule to leave a specific number of car lengths between you and the person in front of you but it is more important to stay 3-4 seconds away from the car in front of you when driving on dry roads. The trick to confirming this is to watch when the vehicle in front of you passes a fixed marker (ex: a speed limit sign) then count to 3 seconds. If the road conditions are damp, add additional time (leave 5 seconds between you and the car in front ahead of you). If it’s dark, add another second.
In the rain, it is important to take turns slowly. In damp road conditions, turning too quickly can lead to hydroplaning. Stay safe by signaling early and start slowing down sooner. It is also recommended that you go through the turn slower to avoid a loss of control.
Avoid cruise control
Cruise control is a great feature… when the roads are dry. Using your cruise control on wet roads increases the chance of losing control of your vehicle. To prevent losing traction while driving in the rain, the driver may need to reduce the vehicle’s speed by letting off the accelerator, but this isn’t possible when cruise control is activated. When you are using cruise control, you have less control over your vehicle, which can result in an accident.
Responding to skids
If you have ever hydroplaned, I’m sure you know how scary it can be. The ugly truth is that hydroplaning means a total loss of contact with pavement due to wet road conditions. “But I’m driving slow”. Unfortunately, hydroplaning can occur in speeds as low as 35mph. How do you know you are hydroplaning? If the steering wheel feels light in your hands, you may be hydroplaning.
In the event that you do hydroplane, it is important to remain calm. It could be counterproductive to slam on your breaks or yank the steering wheel in an attempt to correct. Rather, ease your foot off the accelerator and gently push on the breaks. Look around to see where you want to turn and gently steer towards where you want to go.
As one last piece of advice, if you see standing water, do not try to drive through it. You may be in a hurry and it may be out of your way to turn around and find an alternative route, but it will still be faster than your car getting stuck and putting you in danger.