Loss Control Insights
Do Your Drivers Know How to Avoid Hydroplaning?
Most drivers know to slow down, turn off cruise control and avoid tailgating when driving on snowy or icy roads. However, many drivers are surprised to learn that rain can be nearly as treacherous to drive in. Flooded streets and swollen creeks can sweep vehicles off the road while water-slick roadways can cause hydroplaning. According to the Federal Highway Administration, 75% of all weather-related vehicle crashes occur on wet pavement, with 47% of them occurring when it’s raining.
What Is Hydroplaning?Hydroplaning happens when water flows between your car’s tires and the pavement. The water prevents tires from gripping the road, which can lead to a loss of steering control and accidents. Hydroplaning may make it feel as though your vehicle is floating and you have no control over the direction you are heading. Watch this short video for more information on how and why hydroplaning occurs.
What Causes Hydroplaning?When a vehicle’s tires are moving over a wet surface, water on the roadway surface may not be moved (channeled) away from the center of the tire quickly enough. The excess water can lift the tires, so they lose traction on the roadway and glide over the water instead.
But not all vehicles will hydroplane under exactly the same conditions. The three major factors that contribute to whether a vehicle will hydroplane are vehicle speed, tire tread and the amount of water on the road.
How to Prevent HydroplaningThere are ways to prevent hydroplaning, including good vehicle maintenance and training drivers on how to handle situations where hydroplaning may occur. Below are some best practices that you should share with your drivers during the training process.
1. Check your tiresWhen performing maintenance, make sure tire tread is in good condition and tires are inflated correctly. The lower your tire inflation and thinner the tread, the greater the possibility of hydroplaning. That’s because deeper tire grooves scatter the water you drive through, allowing for better traction. Rotating tires frequently and replacing them as needed keeps you safer on all roadways, but especially on those that are water- or ice-covered.
2. Understand the dangersIt’s not just heavy rains that cause hydroplaning—the first 10 minutes after a rain shower is one of the most dangerous times. Raindrops mix with dust and oils on the road, and the combination makes a very slick surface. Additionally, driving through a large puddle or an area of standing water—even if it’s not raining and the streets aren’t fully wet—can create conditions for hydroplaning.
3. Drive slower and hang backSlowing down is the safest move you can make when the pavement is wet. Not only will you have better visibility, but the slower you drive, the less likely you are to hydroplane. That’s because tires get better traction on wet pavement at lower speeds. How much slower to drive depends on how much rain, the type of pavement and your tire condition. Some experts say that hydroplaning is rare at speeds as low as 30 mph while others suggest 45 mph as a sufficiently safe speed.
You should also leave more space between your vehicle and those ahead of you, as it will take longer to stop when the pavement is wet. For example, if driving 35 mph on wet pavement, it can take 120 feet or more to come to a complete stop while stops on dry pavement at that speed take only 60 to 100 feet.
4. Turn off cruise controlDriving with cruise control on can cause your tires to spin faster if you start to hydroplane, so turning this feature off is a proactive move. Similarly, truck drivers should avoid using Jake brakes when driving on wet pavement as its usage can decrease traction.
5. Change lanes if possibleRight lanes often have deeper depressions that collect rainwater, which can increase the chance of hydroplaning. Outside lanes bounded by curbs may also funnel more water flow, leading to a higher risk of hydroplaning. Freeway exit and entrance ramps also pose a similar water-flow danger. When water combines with the sharp curves of ramps, you can easily lose control of your vehicle, so slow down when entering a ramp when pavement is wet.
What to do When Hydroplaning OccursThat out-of-control feeling when your vehicle seems to have a mind of its own can cause panicky reactions. However, it’s important to remain calm—rather than slamming on the brakes or jerking the steering wheel, try these safe responses:
- Calmly and slowly take your foot off the accelerator
- Gently turn the steering wheel in the direction your vehicle is moving while hydroplaning; this will allow your tires and steering to sync, letting you regain control
- Wait for the tires to reconnect with the road’s surface
- Pull over at a safe area, such as a rest stop, to calm down, wipe away any condensation build-up inside your vehicle and clear water droplets from windows and mirrors before getting back on the road