With the dawning of Spring often comes a deluge of rain showers and thunderstorms. While a soft Spring rain may seem innocent enough from the safety of your home, even a gentle shower can cause major problems on the road. Thousands of car accidents each year are caused by rain and wet roads—and motorists who don’t know how to drive on them.
During and after a rainstorm, a film of water quickly forms on asphalt roads. This sheath of water causes tires to lose traction, which means drivers can easily lose control. However, slippery roads are not the only danger to driving in the rain. Drivers also lose visibility during a rainstorm. Heavy rain can be absolutely blinding, fogging up the windows and even blocking your headlights. These things all add to an extremely dangerous situation.
If you find yourself on the road during a rainstorm, follow these safety tips to ensure you arrive alive:
- Be especially careful when the rain first starts. When the roads are dry for a long period of time, engine oil and grease builds up on roads and highways. As soon as the first drops of rain start to fall, the water mixes with this build-up making the roads incredibly slick. This is why the first few hours of a rainstorm can be the most hazardous for drivers. If the rain continues to fall for a few more hours, the water will eventually wash away the greasy build-up.
- Slow down. You should always drive at a slower speed when the roads are wet. The faster you drive in a rainstorm, the more likely you are to have an accident. Leave the house earlier than usual to give yourself additional travel time so you won’t feel the urge to rush.
- Brake earlier and slower. When you need to slow down or stop on wet roads, ease on the brakes earlier and with less force than you would normally. This decreases your risk of hydroplaning and keeps a safe distance between you and the car in front of you. It also alerts any drivers behind you to slow down. If you stop too suddenly in a rainstorm, you could get rear-ended.
- Turn off cruise control. When you have cruise control turned on during a rainstorm, your car could actually speed up if you hydroplane. Plus, when you use cruise control, you’re probably not paying as much attention to the road. Turn off the cruise control and stay alert at all times when driving in the rain so you can react quickly if necessary.
- Avoid big “puddles.” If you spot a huge puddle in the road up ahead, drive around it or take a different route. Sometimes seemingly shallow puddles can actually be 5 or 6 feet deep—and that amount of water can cause serious problems for your car’s electrical system. Depending on how deep the water is, it could even float your car. If you aren’t sure just how deep a puddle is, steer clear of it altogether.
- Turn on your headlights. Even if just a few raindrops are falling, turn on your headlights. Not only will this help you see the road, but it will help other drivers see you. However, don’t use your high beams in the rain. This can actually reduce your visibility and blind other drivers.
- Turn on your defroster. Your windshield can fog up quickly during a rainstorm, which can cause you to lose sight of the road. Turn on your front and rear defrosters and the A/C to defog your windows.
- Keep an eye out for pedestrians. In a rainstorm, a pedestrian’s view of the road could be obscured by their rain slicker hood or umbrella—which means they may accidentally step into the road at the wrong time. If you are driving in a city or another area with pedestrians, keep a close eye out for people in the road.
- Pull over when things get bad. If the rain is falling so hard that you can barely see the car in front of you, pull over and wait for the rain to slow down or stop. After all, it’s much better for you to make it to your destination a little late than not at all.
Don’t brake if you hydroplane. If you feel your car starting to hydroplane, don’t brake suddenly or turn the steering wheel. This could send you into a skid. Instead, ease off the gas pedal slowly and steer straight until you feel your tires regain traction. If you have to brake and don’t have anti-lock brakes, tap the brake pedal lightly. If you do have anti-lock brakes, you can brake normally.