April showers. They’re never confined to April, are they?
In fact, it seems like rain is never far away here in Britain. But somehow, lots of drivers are caught unaware by the pitfalls of driving on wet roads. So we’ve put together this quick guide for staying safe in rainy weather – whether it’s the first few spots after a dry spell, or the heavens have opened for what seems like the 100th day in a row.
According to the Highway Code, stopping distances are doubled in wet weather – so the 96m it normally takes to stop from 70mph becomes 192m after a downpour. Roads can become particularly slippery if there’s been no rain for a while; when a dusty film will have settled on the surface, which then interacts with the water to create even worse conditions.
This all means you need to:
- drop anchor earlier
- brake gently (to avoid locking wheels)
- leave bigger gaps between you and the car in front
- anticipate needing to come to a sudden stop
Or you could…
Kill your speed
Leaving more space would be lovely, but our roads are crowded. If you leave space, someone will usually fill it pretty quickly.
So one alternative to buy yourself more time when stopping is to simply be carrying less speed in the first place. Remember that the speed limit is the maximum, not the minimum, and you’re well within your rights to drive 10mph (or more) beneath it, even if traffic is clear.
Use a gentle cornering action
Sharp or sudden turns can spell disaster if your wheels can’t get sufficient purchase on the asphalt. If the front wheels can’t get enough grip, you’ve got understeer, and the car won’t turn as much as you need it. If the rear wheels lose grip, the tail end can kick out behind you – oversteer.
Take a gentler, more progressive approach, and do all your braking before entering a corner; applying the brakes can destabilise wheels scrabbling for grip even more.
Check your wipers
There’s no excuse for not being able to see, so make sure your wipers are replaced regularly and you’ve always got windscreen washer in. This is vital to clear away any grime kicked up by other road users.
Put on your lights
This simply helps to ensure other road users can see you. But don’t use your fog lights – these can dazzle (if front-facing) or be confused for brake lights (at the rear).
Avoid standing water
Hitting standing water at speed can cause your car’s tyres to lose contact with the road – this is called aquaplaning, and is extremely dangerous. If this happens, applying the brakes will have no effect on your speed whatsoever, and your steering will feel very light. Take your foot off the accelerator and allow the car to coast until it clears the water.
Don’t attempt to ford large puddles
Big puddles can hide all sorts of nasties, including huge potholes that can damage your suspension. Worse, you can quickly find yourself in deep water that overwhelms the car’s radiator and electrical systems, stalling the engine and leaving you dangerously trapped.
If you simply must cross, get out of the car and wade into the puddle with wellies and a large stick to gauge the depth. What’s a safe depth will depend on your car (for instance, Land Rovers have fewer problems with more than a few inches of water – other models less so).