Driving in the rain is different than driving in fair weather, thanks to complications from reduced visibility to longer stopping distances to hydroplaning. But there are things drivers can do to minimize risk while driving in the wet.
Inflate your tires
Turn off cruise control
Upgrade your wipers
Turn on the lights
Don't follow too close
Avoid running water
Dry your brakes
Pull over and wait it out
A Michelin-sponsored survey of Canadian drivers showed only 40 percent are comfortable driving in the rain during daylight hours, says Tony Mougios, director of marketing for Michelin Canada.
From a mechanical grip perspective, he said, three things happen in heavy rain: the tires create a bow effect, pushing water out of the way as they roll through it; they store water within their treads; and they evacuate or displace water through the gaps, or sipes, in the tread pattern.
When you get right down to it, Mougios said, a vehicle’s entire control and balance relies on four contact patches, each about the size of an adult palm.
Don’t feel compelled to drive at the speed limit in the rain. Limits reflect ideal road conditions when grip and visibility are at their best. You’ll find greater control and peace of mind at 10 or 20 km/h below the limit when roads are slick with water and rain distorts the view through the windshield. Excessive speed for conditions is by far the greatest cause of rain-related accidents, Mougios said.
Slowing down allows your tires to more efficiently store, then displace the water beneath them, allowing the treads to stay in contact with the road surface to provide maximum grip. It also gives you more time to react, sharpens steering accuracy and shortens braking distances. Don’t attempt sudden changes in direction when you can’t feel contact with the road, as when you do regain it, the car will be poised to change its course, and will do so quickly.
The right tires are essential to safe driving in the wet, but surveys show most drivers take them for granted. Not everyone who drives can afford or is inclined to maintain one set of tires specifically for summer driving and another set for the winter, Mougios noted.
Having properly inflated tires with good, as opposed to worn, treads is sure to help you better stick to the road, he said.
Turn it off when water begins to pool on the asphalt, and manage the throttle yourself.
Having a foot already on the pedals, and not simply lounging on the pile-carpeted floor nearby them, sharpens the driver’s reaction times. If the tires hydroplane with the cruise turned on, the car could actually accelerate when grip is regained.
Any racing driver or instructor will tell you that driving well is all about vision and having as much of it as possible. To that end, good quality wiper blades are essential to driving well in the rain. Wipers require periodic inspection for cracks and wear that reduces their ability to swipe the glass clear. If the wiper blades are cracked or worn, replace them immediately.
See and be seen at all times: having lights on – not just daytime running lights, but head-, side marker and taillights – is an effective means of making your presence known to fellow motorists and for standing out from dull, grey conditions and surroundings.
When the road is wet, especially for the first time after a dry period, filmy water and oils on the asphalt reduce traction. They also cut down on visibility, especially when they splash up on headlights, windshields and over the road.
With the shortened reaction and stopping times caused by wet weather, maintaining a gap between yourself and the vehicle ahead is more important than ever. In heavy traffic, maintaining a gap also affords the opportunity to see the brake lights come on from cars several places ahead of you as they reflect off the wet pavement beneath the car ahead; if you’re following too closely you won’t have that visual edge, and your reaction time will be virtually erased.
Many roads across North America are built with crowns in the middle, which causes water to run off to the sides where deeper standing pools will accumulate first. Keep to the centre lanes if traffic allows. If possible, Mougios said, drive in the tracks of the vehicle ahead to give your tires less water to displace.
If the road ahead is under water, don’t try to drive through it unless you can see the roadway underneath; never attempt driving through it if water is rushing over the roadway. Rushing water tends to quickly wash out roads and you could find yourself stuck in a hole with water flowing all around you, or watching helplessly from inside as your car gets washed off the roadway and into a ditch.
If you can see the roadway beneath standing water and intend to drive through it, proceed slowly to avoid splashing water into the engine compartment. Remember, modern cars bristle with electronic technologies, and it doesn’t take much water to render them inoperable.
Driving through standing water will soak your brakes, leaving them virtually ineffective until they can be dried. By driving slowly once you’re out of the water and applying the brakes gently, you can generate enough heat to dry them rather quickly. Satisfy yourself that each brake is pulling evenly before resuming higher speeds.
If it’s raining so hard you have difficulty seeing the road surface or vehicle ahead of you, avoid the temptation to press on. Pull over well off the road or, preferably, into an adjacent roadway or parking lot. Turn on your flashing hazard lights and wait for the worst of the storm to pass before proceeding further.
If you must pull over on the shoulder of the road, Mougios said, remain inside the vehicle; should another strike yours, your chances for survival are infinitely higher than not having the vehicle’s structure to protect you.