How to Drive in the Rain
You already know to slow down. Here, the experts give tips beyond the obvious for how to drive in the rain
By Rachel Hartman
1. Slow down
Ok, we’re stating the obvious. Sorry, we couldn’t help it; it’s the first line of defense. First and foremost, decrease your speed and increase following distance, recommends Jeff Purner, of the Porsche Sport Driving School in Leeds, AL. Going slower will give you more time to spot and react to rainy road conditions and other vehicles.
Under normal conditions, you’ll want to maintain two to three seconds’ worth of time between your car and the vehicle in front of you. In rainy conditions, that time should be doubled.
2. Keep your focus
To avoid getting into an accident, keep your awareness high and pay attention to the task at hand, says Purner. That means turning off the cell phone, the radio, and getting rid of any other distractions in the car that could take your mind off of the road.
As you drive, take careful measures to stay out of the blind spot of other vehicles on the road, particularly trucks and tractor trailers. Besides the risk of them not seeing you, if you get too close you may end up getting doused with spray from their tires, reducing your vision and putting your car at risk. If possible, avoid passing buses and trucks in heavy rain.
3. Be aware of grease effects
The longer the period of time a road goes without getting rain, the greater the chance of slick conditions during a downpour. This is especially true at intersections and other places where vehicles tend to come to a stop regularly. As cars pass through these areas under normal weather conditions, grease and oil drip onto the pavement. When the rain hits these collections, the road can become slippery — fast. It may take several hours for the rain to wash away the greasy patches; in the meantime, approach areas that could be slick with extra caution, take turns slowly, and brake early.
4. Watch for flooding
If you start heading into an area that has been flooded, the best precaution is to simply avoid it. “Even if you know the road, there could be rushing water that has washed out the road and you won’t be able to see it,” notes Purner.
Look for a different route to take if you come across a water-filled area. If you live in an area with frequent flooding, leave your house early and allow extra travel time in case you need to find a detour.
5. Watch out for troughs
Over time, roads tend to develop lower sections in certain areas. These grooves — a result of the wear and tear of traffic — are especially prominent on Interstates, where tires pass over the same spots repeatedly. These low areas, or troughs, are the first to collect water when it rains.
If you spot a trough on the road where water has accumulated, move over a few inches, notes Donnie Isley, driving instructor at the BMW Performance Driving School in Greer, SC. Roads are often higher in the middle, but visually evaluate the area before making a change. Then, if possible, shift your vehicle toward the higher ground.
6. Correct a wayward skid
If the car loses control in the rear, take your foot off of the accelerator. Then turn the steering wheel in the same direction that the back is moving (e.g. if the rear end is fishtailing to the right, turn to the right). Pause for a moment to allow the car time to react to your move; then turn the wheel in the opposite direction. This technique – known as CPR (Correction – Pause – Recovery) — will help you regain control of the car.
If you get in a tight spot, stay calm and use your eyes to navigate the car. “Don’t look at the concrete wall you’re about to hit – look at where you want the car to go,” says Isley. Focus on the place you need to be and the car should follow suit.
7. Don’t use cruise control
If you have the cruise control on, it could work against you in rainy conditions, advises Isley. A system set at 65 miles per hour heading into a rainy area will try to maintain that speed, even if that’s not the best driving speed for the weather conditions. Worse, “if the car starts hydroplaning, the computer system may try to speed it up when you want to slow down,” says Isley.
8. Brake away
Stopping on a wet road will take longer than usual, so start to slow down sooner than you normally would, says Isley. Also, you can avoid a skid by pressing the brakes while your car is pointed straight ahead. It’s always better to do all of your braking in a straight line, rather than when your wheel is turned. If you depress the brake under wet conditions while you’re in a corner, or while you’re turning, you’re more likely to put the car into a spin. So anticipate the corner up ahead. Slow down before you get to a corner by taking your foot off the gas pedal, and brake while wheels are in the neutral, straight ahead position. Then take the corner slowly.
9. Show your tires some TLC
Cruising around with tires that have low pressure can make your vehicle more apt to hydroplane, warns Purner. Check the pressure in your tires regularly and make sure they are properly inflated. You’ll also want to monitor the tread depth on your tires. If the tire’s tread depth indicators are low, it may be time to rotate or replace the car’s tires.
10. Keep your car maintained
You don’t want to find out that you need new windshield wipers when you hit a downpour. Take in your car regularly for maintenance, and replace wiper blades at least once a year. For an older car, you may need to purchase a new wiper arm, as these can bend over time and lose the pressure needed to properly clean the windshield.
In addition to regular maintenance, prep your car and yourself for possible adverse weather scenarios. Put together an emergency kit and keep it in your car at all times. Make sure you’re aware of your car’s safety system. Many of today’s models offer features such as anti-lock brakes, traction control ,and electronic stability control, all designed to help you maneuver the car as you drive. Understanding how they work will help keep you and your family safe on the road.