Ah, the Great British weather. Too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry - we can always find a reason to complain about it. But, on the whole, in this country we rarely experience many of the extremes of weather that some countries have to deal with.
There’s one thing we do get plenty of though – particularly in the winter months – and that’s rain. Rain, drizzle, deluge, downpour, cats and dogs – it’s possible that the British have as many words for rain as the Eskimos do for snow.
In recent years we seem to have had an increase in the amount of flooding and, as we’re now in the wettest season of the year, it’s probably a good time to talk about how to drive safely in wet weather.
Stay indoors with a nice cup of tea unless you absolutely have to take the car out. But, for those occasions where it really can’t be avoided or when you get caught out, we’ve put together some tips to help you prepare for driving in wet weather.
You should check your car on a regular basis, and some checks will help you to prepare for heavy rain. Ask yourself:
- Are your windscreen wipers in good condition?
- Are your lights all working?
- Are your tyre pressures OK?
- Is the tread on your tyres deep enough? (In the UK, the legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm across the central three-quarters of the tyre, but this is a minimum and deeper tread is better)
- Do you have breakdown cover?
It’s also a good idea to make sure that you have your mobile phone on you (fully charged!) and that the shoes you plan to drive in aren’t going to slip off the pedals. You may need wellies for when you get out of the car, but it’s probably not a good idea to drive in them.
Take it easy and keep well back
Driving slowly will mean that your tyres will have more time to displace the water and you’ll have good grip. If you drive too fast the water cannot be fully displaced and you will have less grip, so driving slowly really does help you to stay safe.
It’s really important in wet conditions that you double the normal distance between you and the car in front. Leaving plenty of space means you can brake safely, and avoid skidding. Your windscreen will also be less likely to get covered in spray from the car in front, so you’ll be able to see better.
Use your wipers and lights
Switch on your wipers. OK, so that sounds pretty obvious, but think about how you use your wipers. For example, if there’s a large vehicle coming the other way that’s throwing up a lot of spray, switch your wipers to the fastest setting before the spray is over you. This will help you to keep the clearest view of the road ahead.
And, as a rule of thumb, whenever you use your wipers, put your dipped headlights on.
This isn’t a cool new water sport, but when the water in front of your tyres builds up faster than your tyres can displace it. A thin layer of water forms between your tyres and the road so that there is no longer any contact between tyre and tarmac. You’ll know you’re aquaplaning because your steering will feel very light.
If you think you’re aquaplaning, ease off the accelerator so that you slow down gradually until your tyres grip the road again. Don’t brake hard and avoid steering as you’ll be in danger of losing control. The best way to avoid aquaplaning is to control your speed. Travel slowly enough and you’re very unlikely to aquaplane.
If you have cruise control in your car, switch it off so you have as much control over your vehicle as possible.
On the skids
When water mixes with oil and dirt on the road it can make the surface slippery, and that can cause you to skid. You can avoid this by driving slowly and carefully and avoiding harsh braking.
If you do start to skid, don’t panic! Steer in the direction you want the front of the car to go (steering into the skid) and take your foot off the accelerator. Avoid braking even if you have an anti-lock braking system (ABS) fitted to your car – ABS cannot help you once you are skidding.
Beware of floods
It can be difficult to judge how deep floodwater is. You may be able to tell whether the water is shallow enough for you to drive through, but if you’re not sure, don’t attempt it; turn around and find another route. Getting water into your engine can cause massive damage, and may cost you a fortune to fix.
If you do decide that the flood’s shallow enough to drive through, follow these simple rules:
- Allow oncoming traffic to pass before starting to drive through the flood
- Drive along the highest part of the road (usually the centre) but looking out for approaching drivers who may be doing the same thing
- Go slowly and keep to a steady speed
- Use first gear and keep revs high by slipping your clutch (keep it partly engaged)
- Once you’re through to the other side, test your brakes before resuming normal driving.
Never attempt to drive through fast-moving water such as a flooded bridge or ford. Conditions can change very quickly and you may be swept away.
Here are some surprising stats which may convince you that it’s not worth the risk.
- 30cm of flowing water is enough to float an average family car.
- 32% of flood-related deaths are by drowning in a vehicle.*
If your engine cuts out after driving through deep water, don’t try to restart it as you could damage the engine. Call for help and get the professionals to have a look at your car.
If you do breakdown in wet weather, it’s best to call your breakdown service and wait for them to arrive before doing anything. Don’t open the bonnet as this may allow rain to reach electrical components that need to stay dry.
Finally, if the rain gets REALLY bad, pull over somewhere safe and wait for it to ease off. And take comfort in the fact that we have a green and pleasant land, but the price is the odd drenching.
You can read more about wet weather driving in our ‘safe driving for life’ eBook, Winter Driving.