Driving in the rain can be disorienting, stressful, and dangerous. Dozens of cars around you, rain crashing on your car, and limited visibility out of your windshield. But there’s a reason more wrecks occur when it’s raining, and it’s not only because drivers can’t see.
What most drivers don’t realize is just how slick roads are, even in the summer. Grease, oil, fuel, dirt, and dozens of other materials are caked onto our highways from millions of passing cars. Each of these materials, when wet, create a slick surface for your tires. Oil materials don’t mix with water, so even heavy rain will take several minutes to wash away any contaminants. That makes the first 15 minutes of rain very dangerous. How can you prepare yourself for driving in the rain?
Driving in the Rain Tip #1 – Replace Windshield Wipers Regularly
How do you know when to replace your windshield wipers? Some professionals recommend a six to twelve month replacement schedule, which is pretty standard. To avoid replacing perfectly good wiper blades, simply test them regularly with a heavy stream of windshield wiper fluid. If your windshield is left streaked and partially wet, you should probably replace the blades. Cracked or torn rubber is also a good indication of worn out windshield wiper blades.
Driving in the Rain Tip #2 – Drive Slow (But Not Too Slow)
Do you ever notice how awful city traffic can be during a rainstorm? It’s not uncommon to pass several wrecks in one commute. Again, it’s not the visibility that gets most drivers, it’s the initial lack of traction due to materials on the road. When you brake, your stopping distance will be significantly increased in the rain. Drive slow in the rain, but not too slow. Then again, if you’re in city traffic, you probably don’t have a choice.
Driving in the Rain Tip #3 – Time Your Trips
Is it going to start raining during the 10:00 movie? Be responsible and try to catch the 7:00 movie if it’s possible. Avoiding the initial rain downpour significantly improves your chances of getting there safely.
Driving in the Rain Tip #4 – Use Proper Tires
Most vehicles are equipped with all-season tires that are capable of performing well in rainy conditions. However, these tires are the jack of all trades and the master of none, so if you’re constantly driving in the rain, you might consider tires specifically for heavy rain environments.
Driving in the Rain Tip #5 – Turn on Your Headlights
Turn your headlights on in a light rain and in gloomy, foggy, or overcast conditions to help you see the road and help other drivers see you. In fact, since 2008, California law says you must turn on your headlights when you turn on your windshield wipers.
Driving in the Rain Tip #6 – Safe Following Distance
Maintain proper following distance (3 second rule) and increase that distance in wet weather. Cars directly in front of you will cause water to spray on your windshield which reduces vision. Large trucks and buses are particularly poor vehicles to follow during a rainstorm because they kick up more rain than smaller vehicles.
Driving in the Rain Tip #7 – Brake Correctly
Anti-lock brake systems have revolutionized the way cars stop, but they’re still not perfect. When you need to stop or slow, do not brake hard or lock the wheels and risk a skid. Maintain mild pressure on the brake pedal.
Driving in the Rain Tip #8 – Understand Hydroplaning
Hydroplaning happens when the water in front of the tires builds up faster than the vehicle’s weight can push out of the way. The water pressure causes the vehicle to rise up and slide in a thin layer of water between the tires and the road. At this point, the vehicle can be completely out of contact with the road, and in danger of skidding or drifting out of the lane. Three main factors contribute to hydroplaning:
Vehicle speed. As speed increases, wet traction is considerably reduced.
Tire tread depth. Maintaining adequate treading on tires and replacing them when necessary can help prevent hydroplaning. 1/32 inch (according to driversed.com). From the California Vehicle Code online: (1) One thirty-second (1/32) of an inch tread depth in any two adjacent grooves
Water depth. The deeper the water, the sooner you will lose traction, although even thin water layers can cause a loss of traction, including at low speeds.