It’s summertime and while the livin’ may be easy, as for the driving, well, that can be another story entirely. In fact, summertime driving can be downright dangerous.
For starters, with Americans packing up the car and traveling to summer vacation destinations, there’s more traffic than usual on the roadways. More traffic means more congestion and a greater chance of accidents.
And then there’s the weather.
Summer brings an abundance of steamy, sticky days and unsettled weather patterns that can ramp up the potential for torrential afternoon
thunderstorms that strike with little warning, limit visibility, and boost the chances of one of the most common causes of traffic accidents: hydroplaning.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, most weather-related accidents occur on wet pavement (76%) and during rainfall (46%). With the numerous summer afternoon downpours and the potentially hazardous puddles they create on the roadways, you can bet that a major contributor to those numbers is hydroplaning.
So, what exactly is hydroplaning, how can you avoid it, and how can you best respond to it? Follow along: we’ve got you covered.
Hydroplaning: When the Rubber Doesn’t Meet the Road
Hydroplaning occurs when there’s too much water on the road for tires to disperse. Water pressure in the front of the wheel pushes water under the tire, which causes the tire to separate from the road by a thin layer of water. The result is loss of traction, and with it, the loss of steering, braking and power control -- a scary and potentially dangerous situation for even the most experienced drivers.
Hydroplaning can happen whenever water is present on the road; and it doesn’t require a deep puddle or traveling at high speeds to occur. In fact, hydroplaning can occur in as little as one-eighth of an inch of water and in speeds as low as 30 mph but is most dangerous when traveling over 35 mph and on congested roadways, where every car within range is a potential target.
Top Tips to Prevent and Recover From Hydroplaning
When drivers realize they’re hydroplaning, a feeling of helplessness and panic usually takes over, and the first reaction is most typically overcorrecting, which is especially dangerous since it can send the vehicle veering out of control.
To prevent this situation, when traveling on wet roads or in rainy conditions, keep the following tips in mind for more peace of mind and to help lessen your chances of hydroplaning:
- Don’t Use Cruise Control — If you begin hydroplaning with cruise control on, disabling it requires hitting the brakes. If you don’t have anti-lock brakes, this can cause the vehicle to skid even more. Plus, cruise control keeps the vehicle at a constant speed, which is the last thing you want in rainy conditions.
- Cut Your Speed — Once rain begins, slow down between five and 10 mph and even more if rain is heavy and conditions are windy. Avoid passing other vehicles, sudden accelerations and sharp turns.
- Keep Up With Your Tires — Make sure you have sufficient tread, tires are properly inflated, and that you rotate and balance tires regularly to maintain even tread. A good rule of thumb is to rotate tires every other time the oil is changed or approximately every seven to 10 thousand miles.
- Avoid Puddles and Standing Water — Remember that it doesn’t take a lot of water for hydroplaning to occur. So, if you see standing water, try to avoid it and avoid the outer lanes where water tends to accumulate.
- Follow the Leader — Try to drive in the tracks of the vehicle ahead of you and maintain proper distance of at least three seconds.
No matter how careful and prepared the driver, sometimes hydroplaning just can’t be avoided. Should hydroplaning occur, these tips will help you gain control over the vehicle:
- Know How and When to Use Brakes —Sudden braking can cause the vehicle to spin out of control. Slow down by immediately taking your foot off the accelerator. If you have anti-lock brakes, avoid slamming them. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. If you have regular brakes and you are heading toward another car, and the only way to avoid hitting it is to apply the brakes, pump them lightly and regularly.
- Turn the Steering Wheel in the Direction the Car is Hydroplaning — Although this may seem illogical, this maneuver will help you regain control of the vehicle by aligning the tires with the direction the vehicle is traveling.
Hydroplaning can occur in an instant and can be terrifying, despite the level of driver skill and experience. If you are involved in a hydroplaning event, once you have gained control of the vehicle, pull over in a safe spot, take a deep breath and try to relax. The most important thing is your health and safety and getting to your destination without incident.
Want more safety tips? Read PS Energy’s new eBook: A Fleet Manager's Guide to Emergency Prep to learn more about how to improve the safety and efficiency of your fleet operations so you can be prepared for anything.