Wet weather driving alert
One of the main dangers of driving in wet weather conditions, is when the tread on your tyre is no longer able to channel away water, and the tyre lifts off the road surface and starts to skim across the water like a speedboat.
This ‘aquaplaning’, as it’s called, can happen at slow speeds with little water on the road if your tyres are badly worn. But with enough water on the road, even new tyres will aquaplane, and at lower speeds than you might expect.
If your vehicle’s front wheels’ aquaplane in a corner, your steering will stop working until the vehicle encounters a drier patch or sheds excess speed, which may or may not happen in time for you to avoid hitting something. The only cure for aquaplaning is prevention: reduce speed on wet roads, especially if they appear waterlogged.
It is common to see drivers continuing to drive at or above the freeway speed limit where conditions are clearly unsafe for such speeds – an unexpectedly deep patch of water may be all it takes for the vehicle to be pitched into the barriers or run wide into oncoming traffic.
Apart from keeping a safe speed for the conditions, you will also need a safe following distance. Wet or dry, the human reaction time is about one second, so if you follow closer than that, you have no chance of avoiding an emergency. At urban speeds, it’s easy to keep a big enough gap to stop if the vehicle ahead of you unexpectedly stops. A three to four second gap at 60 km/h will almost always enable you to react and stop on a dry road. Extend that to five or six seconds on a wet road.
But at higher speeds, everything changes. To react and stop from 120km/h requires upwards of 10 seconds on a wet road. Even a minimal gap to allow for reaction and swerving time should be at least five or six seconds at 120km/h – anything less than that, and you’ll either hit what’s in your way or be forced into swerving so suddenly that not even the stability control electronics can control the resulting skid.
Surviving wet roads requires, more than anything, respect for what you’re up against. With traction and visibility reduced, it only takes a minor error to have major consequences.
- Ensure your headlights and brake lights are working.
- Switch on your headlights, especially when natural light is low. Remember this also alerts other drivers to your presence on the road.
- Ensure your windscreen and wipers are in good condition.
- Check that your tyres are in good shape.
- Don’t speed, and maintain a safe following distance.
- Buckle up.
- Don’t cross low-lying bridges, even if you think your car can make it.
- Slow down before entering standing water on the road as this may cause the car to “pull” to the side without warning, and it may be deeper than it looks.
- Avoid areas where there are known to be adverse conditions.
- Adjust your speed for the condition of the road. Just because a road is marked at 120 km, doesn’t mean it is safe to travel at this speed in all conditions.
Always keep safety top of mind when climbing behind the steering wheel of a vehicle, and educate those who are driving when you are the passenger.