Traveling Safely in Wet Weather
By Kimberly Graf. Published on September 14, 2018
Driving in rain or other wet conditions requires an entirely different mindset from regular driving. Whether you come across wet weather on a road you know or while you're traveling, there are a few extra things you should take into account.
All cars are not created equal. A sports car or sedan that is lower to the ground lighter will slide easier, while minivans or SUVs are more dangerous to turn due to the weight on the top of the car. All-wheel drive is better for slippery conditions, and rear-wheel drive makes it a little harder to stay in control. Knowing your car will have a tremendous impact on how effectively you can drive in slick conditions.
Note that your headlights should always be on in wet conditions. It's the law in every state to have your headlights on when your wipers are required, but avoid using your bright setting, as it can impair other drivers.
Speed is your most important tool for staying safe. Speed limits are posted and imposed with ideal conditions in mind, based on a number of factors specific to the road you are traveling on. With any weather conditions you will need to slow down – quite a bit in some cases. The magic number for rain is 35 mph. Any more speed will greatly reduce your tires' contact with the road.
On straight highways and interstates, you should still cut down your speed significantly. In regular wet conditions without ice or pooled water on the roadway, about 7 to 10 mph less than the posted speed limit is safe. Even at a reduced speed, you should not use cruise control. If your tires slide, cruise control will cause your car to speed up and greatly increase your risk of losing control entirely.
Braking and Turning
If you have to brake, remember that you need a greater distance before your car comes to a stop. If you hit the brakes too hard you could lose control. It’s better to ease onto the brakes and come to a slow stop, as this reduces the chances that your tires will slide. Keep this in mind in traffic. To be safe, increase the distance between you and other cars. If you have to brake, you will have more time to do so.
Make your turns wider to allow the car's weight to shift less rapidly. Turning too sharp with a weighty car will overbalance it, and lighter cars will lose contact with the roadway. Let off the accelerator if you can and make slower, larger turns to prevent sliding.
If you do happen to hydroplane or slide while driving, you will need to act fast to keep control of your car. Take your foot off the gas pedal and avoid braking. You can pump your brakes to reduce speed, but to stay in control you must fight the instinct to hit the brakes hard. You should guide the car in the safest direction and don't fight the natural way it wants to spin or skid. Doing this will cause even more imbalance in the weight of the vehicle. Pump your brakes and stay in control until the car comes to a stop or you regain total control.
Staying calm will produce the best results if you lose control of your car and ensure that you can bring it back under your control as quickly and efficiently as possible.
There are times that even the most experienced drivers won't be able to drive in wet weather. Heavier rainstorms can obscure the road, reducing viewing distance and all but erasing the lane boundaries. If you find yourself in a situation where you can't see or it's impossible to keep the car from sliding, the best way to stay safe is to pull over. Wait for a break in the storm to get back on the road, and if the weather persists, get off the road until conditions improve.
There are times you may encounter flooded areas or areas with fast-moving currents. The safest way to avoid damage and injury is to avoid crossing the water if at all possible. If you have no other choice, take into account the size and weight of your car. A large truck will probably be able to cross areas where smaller cars would get stuck or swept away.
If the water is high enough to reach the undercarriage of your car, you could be facing damages if you attempt to cross it. There are some expensive parts located here, as well as various intake points, and sucking water up into the mechanics of your car is never going to end well.
If you must cross and can safely do so, drive slowly and mind the current. One car should attempt to cross at a time. You might end up drifting into the other lane in a strong current, so this is of paramount importance.
It cannot be overstated, however, that the safest way to deal with a flooded road is to turn around and avoid crossing it. It's worth noting that some areas with frequent flooding have special rules in place. In some places, getting stuck in standing water above a certain depth will get you a fine for unsafe driving – not to mention the removal bill for retrieving your car and the repair bills that follow from the damage.
It isn't impossible or entirely unsafe to drive in mild rainy conditions, but it is important to know what you're doing. There are special rules and procedures that must be followed to ensure that you keep yourself safe and avoid harming other drivers. Wet roads react differently than dry roads, and knowing the difference could save you from huge expenses and terrible injuries.