Everyone knows the old saying "April showers bring May flowers" and that sounds pretty lovely, but it also brings hazardous road conditions, accidents that could've been avoided and people who simply aren't aware of some basic safe driving techniques for inclement weather. It's ok, before I studied safety training I wasn't aware of some important techniques or even some little day-to-day things I overlooked too...which resulted in my first and last car accident!
To stop YOU from learning a hard lesson, here's some useful tips to live by when you're faced with driving in the rain...and remember even a light sprinkle is enough to cause an accident so stay smart and stay safe!
Check your tires before driving in severe rain. Tire tread is what allows your tires to adhere to the road, which is why it’s so dangerous to drive with bald tires. Without the right traction, you can skid, slide, and hydroplane easily in wet conditions. (Click here for a simple way to check your tires at home.) Also, be sure your tires are inflated properly. Under-inflated tires have more difficulty maintaining good traction with the road. They can also deflect inwards, which makes the tire center higher and traps water easier.(Consult your owner's manual to find out exactly how your tires should be inflated.)
Take your time. Slowing down is the only way to keep your vehicle from hydroplaning. Also remember that one of the most dangerous times to drive is soon after it begins to rain, as oils on roadway make for slick conditions. Waiting a few minutes, rather than rushing to your destination, can be a safer plan when it is raining.
Keep a firm grip on the wheel. Keep both hands on the wheel in case the wind begins to move your vehicle, especially if you are driving a large vehicle or towing a trailer. Anticipate gusts by taking special care when driving through areas prone to strong winds or when weather reports predict severe weather.
Turn your lights on. Turn your headlights on to help other vehicles see you, even in broad daylight. Be sure to check your lights regularly to make sure none of your lights have burnt out, and replace dead lights immediately. This includes headlights, brake lights, turn signals, tail lights, and running lights. Be sure your headlights are pointing in the right direction to make it easier to see and prevent you from blinding other drivers.
Keep an eye on the weather reports and plan ahead to avoid the frustration or pressures of feeling like you need to drive faster than you should in inclement weather. It's always best to leave 15-30 minutes earlier than you do under normal conditions because your safety is more important than sleeping in or being slightly put out.
Use and maintain your windshield wipers. You can improve your visibility in wet conditions by ensuring that your wipers are up to the job, and by using the right washer fluid. Replace poorly or not working windshield wipers immediately and maintain them annually to prevent them from cracking, breaking, or not sealing properly when you need them most. Also, try a hydrophobic washer fluid that will cause water to bead up and drip off your windshield, rather than sticking to it and blocking your view.
Keep your windows clean and clear. Being able to see properly is key to driving safely any time, especially when visibility is already reduced because of rain. To improve your visibility. Clean the inside and outside of the windows and if your windows get foggy turn on the air conditioning or cold air in the car and aim the vents at the windows. Turn on the rear defroster, and open the windows if necessary to increase the airflow.
Give other vehicles more space. Practice 5 seconds of following time in the rain, which gives you and the cars behind you more time to react to traffic. Rear-end collisions occur when drivers do not have enough time to perceive and react safely to slowing or stopped traffic. Increasing your following distance can help give you time to react when someone brakes in front of you. Determining the 5 second gap is relatively easy. When following a vehicle, pick an overhead road sign or other roadside marker. Note when the vehicle ahead passes that marker, then see how many seconds it takes for you to pass the same spot and adjust accordingly. Also increase your following distance if you are driving a larger vehicle or towing a trailer.
Avoid slamming on the brakes. Slamming on the brakes can cause you to slide forward, and you won’t be able to control the car. Hitting the brakes too hard can also force water into your brakes, making them less effective.
Approach turns slowly. Turning too quickly on a wet road can cause your tires to hydroplane, and this means you won’t be able to control the car, and could skid out. Whenever you have a turn coming up, signal early and start slowing down sooner than you would in normal conditions.
DO NOT use cruise control. Cruise control is another factor that can lead to hydroplaning. The weight of the car shifts slightly when you ease on or off the accelerator, and this helps the tires maintain traction with the road. But with cruise control, because the speed of the car is constant, there is no weight shift, and the car can lose traction.
Do not drive through deep standing water, deep flowing water or puddles that you are unclear of their depth. Driving through deep or moving water can be hazardous for a number of reasons, including that you could get stuck, stall out, damage the car or the electrical components, or be swept away. If you encounter these types of road flooding, turn around and find another route. In a case where the only route is blocked, pull over and wait out the flooding.
Be prepared if you start to skid or hydroplane. Skidding on a wet road can be particularly frightening, but the key is to remain calm, look where you want to go, ease your foot off the accelerator, and gently steer in the direction you want to travel. Avoid braking and never slam on the brakes. Hydroplaning can occur at speeds as low as 35 miles (56 km) per hour, and when it happens your car may not react when you turn the steering wheel, and your back end may feel loose. (Check out this useful link with tips on managing hydroplanes and skids.)
Stay focused! When you're behind the wheel, it’s important to always pay attention to the road, other cars, and pedestrians. This is especially true in the rain, when you cannot see as well, and your ability to stop may be hindered by the slickness of the road. Stay focused by keeping your eyes on the road, ignoring your cellphone or radio or conversations in the vehicle and do not eat, smoke, read or apply make up while driving. (For more tips about distracted driving, read my blog on this topic here ).
Never be afraid to pull over to the side of the road if you don’t feel comfortable driving. If you can't see the sides of the road, the cars in front of you, or your surroundings at a safe distance, pull over. You should also pull over if there's too much water on the road, the road is too slick, or you simply don’t feel safe. To pull over safely: turn on your signal, check your mirror and blind spots, pull over as far as possible to the side of the road, and turn on your hazard lights.
Stay safe behind the wheel at all times! Honestly, some of this advise is great to live by even in perfect driving conditions. And now that you have the facts, you can enjoy the flowers! Susan