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5 Things That Make Driving In The Rain Dangerous, And How You Can Avoid Them

TIPS NEWS
Chris Aaron July 27, 2015 17:20

So, it’s the rainy season here in KL (honestly, it's become a lot harder to predict the weather lately), making it the best time to be prepared for wet-weather motoring.

We shared with you our driving tips for getting through a flood, and then on several occasions, showed you the devastating effects heavy downpours can have on vehicles, like this poor BMW i8 in Thailand.

Now, with the above video of a white Porsche going airborne after a slippery rain accident making its rounds on social media not too long ago - and the immense rains we've just seen hit the KL, we thought it best to be taking you through the several types of rain-related accidents that could happen on while on the road, and sharing with you some insight into how you can avoid being a casualty.

In short, the best way to navigate your way through the rain is to drive slowly and carefully. Rain itself causes poor surrounding awareness (poor visibility, hearing) – if you can’t see or hear what’s happening around you, your chances of getting into an accident naturally increases. But what really catches most drivers off guard is a lacking understanding of what happens to your motoring when it starts to rain.

Aquaplaning:

If you haven’t heard of this term before, best pay attention now. Aquaplaning, also known as hydroplaning, occurs when your tyre completely loses contact with the road surface because too much water has come between your tyre's contact patch and the road surface.

Regular road tyres have grooves/ threads in them, and they’re not just for show. The grooves on a tyre are there for the specific purpose of channelling any water you drive over away from disrupting your contact patch (specific areas of where tyre meets road). You can think of these grooves/ threads as a drainage system, funnelling water away to make sure the most rubber is in contact with the road.

However, even with a well-threaded tyre, there is a point when too much speed paired with too much standing water can overwhelm your tyre’s abilities to work efficiently, and that’s when you begin to aquaplane. Worn tyres with shallow grooves face a higher chance of this happening, with theoretically a poorer “drainage” system to displace standing water.

Unfortunately, once this happen, you’re usually just along for the ride, unable to do anything about it until your tyres can regain traction again. The results of aquaplaning are usually devastating, as demonstrated in the clip above.

To avoid aquaplaning, always reduce your speed according to how wet the roads are, and how much standing water exists. A better understanding of what aquaplaning is itself should give you a great head start on preventing it. Watch for and avoid driving through any standing body of water.

Go here for a more thorough video explanation of aquaplaning by TyreSafe.

Speeding into a body of water

With most roads and highways designed to be higher around the middle and then curve lower towards the edges, standing water is bound to build up there when the rain gets heavy – we’re sure you’ve noticed water running down mostly along the sides of the road when it rains.

This occurrence makes it especially dangerous for drivers going too fast in the right-most lane on highways, where the build-up of water isn’t consistently visible. It’s easy to assume that because there isn’t a flood, it’s safe to come through at your regular speed.

Attempting to drive into a body of water with both front wheels diving in at once typically results in aquaplaning (as described above), but the vulnerability we’re talking about here is when that body of water only comes into contact with one side of the vehicle.

The result, depending on how much water and how fast you were going, can be a sudden and forceful slowing effect on one side of your car, while the other side of the vehicle continues its forwards momentum: thus creating a pendulum effect that vaults the nose of your car towards the side that slows down more – inattentive drivers may suddenly be faced with a violent steering pull to one side.

In effect, some drivers may take for granted being able to speed on the right-most lane without seeing any flood water, but all it takes is for one bit of standing water to slam you into a concrete wall or worse. Modern vehicles equipped with various vehicle stability management features may fare a safer fate than those without, but these systems never guarantee your safety 100%.

Where possible, stay on the middle lane, and avoid the edges of the road where standing water builds up.

Poor visibility and hearing

It’s hard enough for most to keep distractions at bay while driving under normal conditions, but when it rains, two of your most important senses on the road are more impaired than ever: seeing and hearing.

As hard as your windscreen wipers can work at sweeping away water off your windscreen, heavy downpours can reduce your visibility range all the way down to just 20 metres at times – more or less, depending on how heavy the rain is – effectively reducing your anticipation and reaction times.

Impaired visibility is one thing, but with rain heavily crashing down on your roof, you’ll also find it difficult to hear surrounding vehicles, reducing your situational awareness. Poor surrounding awareness only results in poor decisions made, and with that, a similar fate to the vehicle in the video above.

Again, these are all reasons for you to avoid being distracted further by mobile devices or anything else. And while focusing on seeing other vehicles and obstacles around you, remember to keep yourself visible to other motorists as well: turning on your headlamps as soon as you require turning on your windscreen wipers is a safe benchmark.

Not braking early enough

The purpose of braking is understood simply enough: to slow down. When it rains, however, its application and purpose becomes quite different.

For one, wet brake rotors don’t perform as well as dry ones when it comes to stopping power – more so for high-performance vehicles that use highly heat-dependant ceramic material brakes.

When it rains, it’s imperative that you maintain a greater distance between yourself and the car ahead of you to give yourself more time and space to go gentle with brake pedal depression. Gentler braking with a bigger gap maintained ahead of you also gives drivers behind an earlier indication of your intentions to slow down.

After you’ve emerged from driving in any level of standing water, also remember to “dry” off your rotors by gently pressing on the brake pedal – a few extended presses and you should be in the clear.

Drivers should also be wary of the potential of uneven braking forces when braking too hard. Advance active safety features like the electronic brake force distribution systems help to even out braking forces evenly according to the pre-set bias on all four wheels, but aren’t totally free of the issue – when a car endures heavier braking bias at the rear, for example, the front-end of the car becomes “loose” and is easily influenced (by tyre rotation, weight distribution etc.) to swerve wildly in any direction. A braking bias to the right side of the vehicle, caused by wet, inefficient brakes on the left, can result in a vehicle throwing itself wildly towards the right on heavy braking (a similar result to driving into a puddle of water on the right side alone, as explained above).

Probably explains why the Volkswagen Golf in this video completely lost it while seemingly driving straight and true.

Drivers with cars that aren’t equipped with electronic brake-force distribution features (Myvi, Axia, Saga etc.) should be especially wary of this, and how they could swerve wildly in any direction by simply pressing the brakes too hard.

*Image courtesy of Blog Jalan Raya Malaysia Facebook page

Watch for falling objects (Trees)

With strong winds and loose branches, you never know. As best as you can, try to avoid stalling your vehicle under areas shaded by lots of trees. If you're on foot, better still to avoid the area at all cost. You never know when a weak tree branch could break off and fall right on your vehicle.

It's not so bad a thing if a small piece falls on your roof, but you can easily imagine what it must be like when a large piece falls and smashes your windscreen, let a lot a whole tree pinning your car to the ground.

Now be careful on the road!

To finish off our rather heavy guide to driving safely in the rain, here’s a light, amusing video of a Formula 1 driver getting it completely wrong in the wet, while demonstrating his enlightened skill for all of Moscow to see.

About Chris Aaron

Chris finds equal pleasures in reviewing fast cars as much as the everyday workhorses. He maintains a passion for European makes, Formula 1, playing the electric guitar and spending endless hours on the PlayStation; first-person shooters and the Gran Turismo franchise remain favourites. He also finds it strange to have written this in the third person.

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