The Dangers of Hydroplaning
Have you ever been driving on a wet road when suddenly you feel your brakes lock up and your car start to skid? This is hydroplaning, and it’s is an all too common experience for drivers. Hydroplaning happens when a car’s tires skid across water, dramatically reducing the car’s traction and steerability. Hydroplaning happens when the water pressure on a wet road pushes so much water underneath a tire’s treads that the car is effectively separated from the road, slipping and sliding with no traction. This is basically how ice skaters skate across ice: thin water, fast movement, little traction. Good news for ice skaters, but deadly for cars.
Where Does Hydroplaning Happen?
Your car can hydroplane on any wet surface, but you are most likely to hydroplane in the first ten minutes of a rainstorm. Any oil or residue on the surface of a road will mix with the water and create very slippery conditions for your car.
The result is a loss of steering and braking capabilities, which are two incredibly dangerous side effects and the reason that understanding, preventing, and reacting to hydroplaning successfully is so important.
A Widespread Issue
It’s no surprise that car crashes are a serious problem in America, with more than 37,000 people killed in car crashes every year. All in all, there are an estimated 5.7 million total car crashes every year, a staggeringly high number that is due, in part, to the dangers of hydroplaning and inclement weather. Traffic engineers estimate that 22% of all car crashes are related to weather.
How To Avoid It
- Slow down. You’re especially at risk for hydroplaning if you’re traveling at 35 miles per hour or faster. The faster you drive, the harder it is for your tires to move through water on the road efficiently. So if it starts to rain, slow your roll and drive extra safely.
- Maintain your tires. Make sure your tires aren’t so old that their tread is worn down; good treads channel water underneath the tires and can prevent hydroplaning, so make sure to rotate and replace your tires according to your mechanic’s recommendation. Additionally, properly inflated tires provide maximum traction with the ground and also help reduce the dangerous of slippery road conditions, so keep those tires inflated!
- Avoid puddles. As you can imagine, the more water there is, the more work your tires have to do to keep you firmly on the road. Stick to the driest parts of the road, staying within the “tracks” of the car in front of you if you can, and drive cautiously around any puddles. Avoid the outer lane, where water is more likely to accumulate, and if you must drive through a puddle, do so very slowly.
- Turn slowly. Don’t take a turn at a fast speed. This is dangerous during dry conditions, but it’s even more dangerous when the ground is wet. Don’t spin out; drive slowly around corners.
- Break gently. If you feel yourself start to hydroplane, your first impulse will probably be to slam on the brakes in a panic. Keep calm and gently pump your brakes to prevent brake lock. Remain calm and wait for your vehicle to regain its grip on the road.