Hydroplaning Prevention & Recovery: Driving in The Rain Safety RulesUpdated Nov. 16, 2020
Hydroplaning is a phenomenon that occurs on wet roads, when a vehicle hits a film of water at a speed great enough to glide on top of it, rather than maintaining contact with the road’s surface. The tread on most tires will channel water away, at speeds up to around 35mph; underinflated and low-tread tires will reduce the speed at which hydroplaning is possible. Increasing speed makes the water-channeling action less effective and can separate your tires from the asphalt, so they ride over the water like a set of water skis.
When hydroplaning occurs, it results in partial or complete loss of control and steering ability. It is something that every driver wants to avoid.
When does hydroplaning occur?
Contrary to what most drivers believe, hydroplaning does not just occur when an inch or more of water has accumulated on the roadway. It can happen when water is just one-tenth of an inch deep.
Speed is the biggest contributing factor. The faster you are traveling, the greater your chances of hydroplaning and the worse it will be if it happens. Partial hydroplaning can begin at speeds of around 35mph, or less, if your tires are in bad condition. At speeds of 55mph or above, tires can lose all contact with the road. If this occurs, you will have zero control over steering, braking or acceleration – your vehicle will essentially be floating at high-speed.
Your greatest weapon against hydroplaning is cutting your speed. Slow down as soon as it begins to rain, or you notice a build-up of water on the road surface.
Never use your cruise control in rainy or wet conditions when hydroplaning is a risk. Should you end up hydroplaning, having to switch off cruise control will take up valuable time in which you could be regaining control of your vehicle. In heavy rain, your cruise control system may detect water build-up as a decrease in speed, causing it to compensate with acceleration. This could result in hydroplaning and send your vehicle sliding straight into an obstacle or off the side of the road.
Maintaining proper tire pressure and tread depth will dramatically decrease your chances of hydroplaning during wet weather. Your vehicle owner’s manual should tell you what pressure your tires need.
How do you know if you are hydroplaning?
How it feels to hydroplane will depend on your vehicle, the depth of the water on the road and the quality of tread on your tires. Drivers may not notice that they are hydroplaning if they are traveling on a straight stretch of road. Of course, it would become immediately obvious if you attempt to turn or brake and realize you have lost control of the vehicle.
If you drive conscientiously and pay attention to your vehicle during wet, hazardous conditions, you should feel a sensation of floating or loss of traction when hydroplaning occurs. Your steering will feel lighter as your tires have lost traction, though it will be partially or completely ineffective.
Recovering from hydroplaning
No matter what type of vehicle you are driving, know that braking is NEVER the answer to hydroplaning. Braking suddenly can lock your tires and cause the vehicle to spin out of control. If you feel your vehicle starting to hydroplane:
- Do not panic.
- Do not brake, this will cause your vehicle to skid.
- Reduce speed by easing off the accelerator.
- When you feel your vehicle regain traction, you may brake gently or steer if necessary.
The “ideal” action to take when severe hydroplaning occurs and you need to avoid a collision depends on the type of car you are driving.
If you are in a front-wheel drive vehicle OR a rear-wheel drive vehicle with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) and traction control, remain lightly on the accelerator and if necessary, steer gently away from any hazards (preferably an open space on the roadway).
Drivers of rear-wheel drive vehicles without ABS and traction control should ease of the gas pedal and if necessary, steer gently away from any hazards.
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