Driving in the rain is something we all have to deal with now and again. It’s unavoidable. It also requires a different style of driving to that suitable on dry roads and, considering we’re all hurtling around in big metal boxes, that style of driving is called cautious.
“Always drive defensively,” you may remember your driving instructor intoning in the dim, dark past. Whether you’re in a deluge or a sprinkle, this should be your mantra.
Here are 8 tips for driving in the rain.
1. Check your tread
This applies to all driving conditions, but never is it more pertinent than in the rain. The tread on your tyres are channels through which water is dispersed; travelling at 100km/h, your tyres may have to disperse up to 9 litres of water a second. If your tyres are too worn and the tread is too shallow, the water can become sandwiched between the road and the rubber, and you lose traction. So, always make sure your tyres are in optimum condition.
We have a page with handy tips on how to check your tyre tread.
2. What to do if you aquaplane
If a layer of water does develop between your tyres and the road, you may find yourself aquaplaning. This means your car has literally been lifted up off the road by the water, you lose control and begin to slide. Steering will become lighter and road noise will decrease. Aquaplaning usually lasts only a few seconds, but that few seconds can seem a lifetime. In this situation, it’s hard not to panic. What you want to do is avoid braking harshly, slowly decrease the pressure on the accelerator, and avoid making sharp turns.
3. Wait until conditions improve
Seems obvious, but the safest form of driving in the rain is not driving at all. No doubt, there are occasions when we need to be on the road, or it was dry when we set out and we get caught in a shower. However, sometimes there is no reason why our errands can’t be delayed an hour or two, or even put off for the day. The fewer cars on the road in wet weather, the safer we all are.
4. Make sure your lights and wipers are working
A heavy downpour dramatically decreases visibility and hampers our ability to judge distances between our vehicle and others on the road. Headlights and brake lights are an absolute must when driving in the rain, so make sure they’re on and functioning.
It’s only when it starts raining that you realise the poor condition of your windscreen wipers. Worn rubber can leave patches of water on the windscreen that reduce visibility, and worn wipers can even scratch the glass. Always check the state of your wipers before you drive so you don’t get caught out.
5. Slow down
Cautious and defensive driving means slowing down and maintaining a greater distance between you and other vehicles. Drive less than the speed limit, and maintain a greater distance between you and the car in front. Choose a landmark and make sure 4 seconds elapse between them passing it and you. On wet roads, it can take twice as long to stop. And when you break, do it early and gently.
6. Avoid pools of water
Every summer when it gets hot, we’re all reminded not to jump into rivers or lakes if the depth is unknown. You could cause yourself serious injury. The same applies to cars. The depth of puddles is impossible to determine, especially when the water is muddy (which it almost always is). That puddle could be concealing a decent pothole, which would seriously damage a wheel or the suspension. Having said that, don’t swerve; if you can’t avoid it, brake with control and traverse it slowly.
7. When rain gets really heavy, PULL OVER
In a deluge, it doesn’t matter how fast our windscreen wipers swoosh back and forth, they can’t displace enough water to maintain visibility. In this situation, you must pull over. When it’s really heavy, you can literally see a tide of water washing over the road; imagine how difficult it is for your tyres to displace that much fluid and maintain traction. Don’t risk it. If there is no shoulder on which to pull over, reduce your speed dramatically.
8. Demist your windscreen
If it’s raining, it’s often cold. In these situations, your warm, moisture-laden breath will condense on the windshield in front of you and leave it opaque. Your air-conditioner will stop this from happening. A lot of cars have a demister button, which simply directs the air conditioning onto the windscreen. Familiarise yourself with these buttons so you don’t find yourself searching for them and driving at the same time. If you have an old car with no air conditioner, wind down a window (and wear a scarf).