It’s raining, it’s pouring… tips driving in wet weather

Whether it’s sprinkling or pouring, driving in the rain can be stressful and dangerous.  Wet roads impact the way your vehicle handles and heavy rain can add hazards (like falling rocks and trees) and reduce visability significantly.  After a long dry spell, roads build up grease and oil which becomes extremely slippery upon first rain.  Flash flooding brings a whole set of new challenges.

At some point, every driver will find themselves having the face the various challenges associated with driving in the rain so we’ve put together a few tips to make sure you’re better prepared.

Before you leave the house

  • The first question you should ask yourself before driving in the rain is, do you really need to be on the road right now?  If you can delay your trip to a time when skies are sunnier, we recommend you do that.
  • In heavy rain, check in with your jurisdiction’s Live Traffic Reports – check for road closures and other issues.
  • Allow extra travel time.  One of the most important things you can do when it’s raining is slow down.  Allow extra time to get to your destination so delays and slower speeds don’t stress you out and make you inclined to drive faster than you should.

Make sure your vehicle is up to the task

You often don’t get much warning that you’re going to be caught in the rain so keep a regular eye on basic maintenance to make sure your vehicle will handle the wet weather.

  • Your tyres are the only contact between your vehicle and the road so it’s critical that they are in good condition.
  • The purpose of tyre tread is to disperse water from under the tyre.  Make sure your tread depth is over the legal minimum of 1.6mm.  The better the tread, the more water your tyre can push out of your way.
  • Keep your tyres inflated correctly to help reduce the risk of acquaplaning (read more about that below).
  • Conduct regular checks of your windscreen wipers.  The wipers should glide across the windscreen moving all the water and dirt along with them. Uneven streaking, splitting, scratching or skipping across the windscreen might tell you that your wipers need replacing.
  • Check your headlights and tail lights to make sure they’re working properly.

On the road

  • Put your game face on:  Keep fully focussed on the task at hand – eyes, ears and mind on the road.  Pedestrians, cyclists and motorbikes are particularly hard to see in the rain so be on the lookout.
  • Slow down and drive to the conditions:  Not only should you never go over the speed limit but you should drive considerably slower than you usually would.  Your car will take longer to stop than usual.
  • Light it up:  Even in light rain, turning your lights on will help you see the road and help other drivers see you.
  • Widen the gap:  Consider putting a 4 or 5 second gap between you and the car in front to give you more time to react to unexpected traffic conditions and accommodate for the extra time your vehicle will take to stop.
  • Follow the leader:  Try and drive in the tracks of the car in front to increase your tyre grip.
  • Give notice:  Brake gently and earlier than you normally would to give the driver behind you plenty of notice that you’re slowing.  Flick those blinkers on nice and early if you’re planning a lane change.
  • Take charge:  If your car has cruise control, it’s a good idea to switch it off in wet conditions.
  • Hit the demister:  Switch the front and back demisters and aircon on to stop the windscreen from fogging up.
  • Avoid extra water:  Driving through large puddles can cause aquaplaning (losing traction and skidding).  When safe, change lanes or carefully steer around standing water.  Puddles can also hide large potholes which can damage your vehicle.  Never attempt to cross running water.  Also, give trucks and buses extra space – those big splashes from their tyres can completely block your vision.
  • Know when mother nature has got you beat:  If the rain is so heavy that you can’t see the edges of the road or the vehicles in front of you, it’s time to pull over and wait it out.  Look for a rest area off the road.  If there is no other option but to pull to the side of the road, pull off as far as possible, keep your headlights on and flick on the hazard warning lights.

What’s aquaplaning and what to if it happens

Aquaplaning (also known as hydroplaning) happens when when a layer of water builds up between a vehicle’s tyres and the surface of the road beneath.  The tyres can no longer grip the road and the water pressure causes your car to rise up and slide.  Aquaplaning can be made worse by poor tyre condition and high speed.

What does it feel like?  Well, you might start to feel revving and the steering might feel light.  You could also experience ‘fishtailing’, which is when the back end of the vehicle drifts from side to side.  It’s a scary experience and can often lead to a crash.

If you find yourself aquaplaning, don’t try and brake suddenly as this may lead to a skid.  Keep your cool, gradually ease your foot off the accelerator and hold the steering wheel straight (in the direction that the front of your car needs to go).  Once the car starts to to gain control you can gently begin to brake to bring your speed down.

 

Avoid driving in heavy rain if at all possible.  If not, reduce your speed, turn on your lights and commit your full attention to the complex task of driving safely through the rain.