Wet weather can affect us all: from snow and ice up north, tropical storms in the south or even a surprise rainstorm in a particularly dry or heavily travelled area - all can create havoc when trying to drive.
Even with the reduced visibility and traction that comes with wet-weather driving, however, many of these accidents are preventable. Below we provide some recommendations on how to lessen some of the risks brought about by precipitation, whether it's snow, ice, rain or fog.
Rain and Fog
Rain can quickly create dangerous driving conditions, and is blamed for thousands of accidents annually. Most accidents result from drivers who don't realize how much driving changes in wet weather compared to dry conditions. For example, during the first few hours of a rainstorm, accumulated oil and engine fluids can float on the rainwater and create a slippery road surface before they are eventually washed away. This risk is increased when an area that receives little precipitation is hit by a downpour.
Fog is another hazard drivers face: it can rapidly reduce a driver's vision, making for hazardous conditions in an instant. To help navigate when driving in heavy fog - or in any situation with reduced visibility - you can use the right edge of the road or painted road markings as a guide.
A good rule to follow is whenever you turn on your windshield wipers, turn on your lights, as you'll be more visible to other motorists. Keep your headlights on low beam, especially in the case of fog, as the additional light reflects of the water droplets in the air, actually making it harder to see.
One of the best rules for driving in snow is to take it slow: everything should be done gradually. For example, when climbing a hill, don't accelerate too quickly, as it will usually result in your wheels spinning. Instead, as you approach a hill try to maintain your momentum while on level ground, and continue that speed up the hill. As you reach the top, reduce speed and proceed down slowly. Another tip: try to avoid stopping when going up a hill, as it can be hard to get a vehicle moving again once it stops on a snow-covered hill. Remember that it takes a lot longer to stop on snow-covered roads.
Another good idea when it is snowing or the landscape is snow covered is to drive with your lights on. Diminished visibility and the lack of contrast between the color of a vehicle and the terrain can be reduced by a car's headlights. Having your headlights on also helps smaller cars to be seen, as they are much less visible when compared to larger cars or SUVs.
Black Ice and Freezing Rain
"Black Ice" is a term for a thin layer of frozen water that is almost completely transparent, appearing to be the same color as the road surface. This situation can occur very quickly when precipitation or moisture comes into contact with a frozen road surface, and is one of the most dangerous situations you can encounter while driving.
A good warning to the possibility of ice forming is that you will see little to no moisture coming from the tires of the vehicles around you, even if the road looks wet. Another way to check for potentially icy conditions is to open your window and run your finger along the front side of your side view mirror. If ice is forming there, there is a good chance it may be forming on the road, especially if the road has not been treated to prevent freezing. Take a look at your temperature gauge before hitting the road too - it's one of the easiest ways to be alert for possible freezing conditions. One additional thing to remember: 4-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicles do not provide any additional stability on icy surfaces. Sometimes it's best to find a safe spot and wait until the roads are clear and treated or the temperature rises.
General wet weather tips
What to do if your car skids
If your car starts to skid, resist the natural instinct to slam on the brakes, which could lock your wheels and make the situation worse and eliminate any control you have over your vehicle. Instead, regain control by steering in the direction of the skid while pumping your brakes to gradually reduce speed. If your car has antilock brakes apply steady, even pressure to the brake pedal and avoid pumping them.
What to do if your car starts to hydroplane
If you feel the car starting to hydroplane, where all 4 wheels lose contact between the tire and the road, don't brake abruptly or turn the wheel. Instead, release the gas pedal slowly and steer straight until the car regains traction. If you must brake, lightly apply pressure to the brake pedal. If your vehicle has antilock brakes, apply steady pressure to the brake pedal. You can help reduce the likeliness of hydroplaning by following the "tracks" made by the vehicle in front of you: just don't follow too closely.
Use caution when crossing running water
Flowing water can quickly move your car, even an SUV. It is often safer to turn back and find another route rather than taking a chance. Also, if you cannot tell how deep a puddle or standing water is, choose a different route or drive around it, as there could potentially be a deep pothole underneath, which is something you don't want to find out the hard way.
Make yourself more visible
Even if you don't need them to see the road, your headlights will make your vehicle more noticeable to other drivers. A good rule to follow is if your wipers are on, your lights should be as well. Even better, always put on your headlights during any sort of precipitation to let others better see you, including pedestrians.
Maintain a safe distance
While tailgating is not a good idea in any weather, it's especially dangerous when roads are wet. Never tailgate during a rainstorm: it can take up to three times the distance usually required to stop your car when road surfaces are wet. Use caution when approaching trucks and buses, as the spray created by their tires can reduce visibility - both yours and theirs - and pass as quickly as possible when conditions safely allow.
Prepare your car for wet weather
Check your windshield wipers to see if they need replacing and check your tires to be sure they are in good condition. Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up. Carry a supply of salt, sand or even kitty litter, as these materials can come in handy if you get stuck. If you do get stuck, place some of the materials around the drive wheels to help gain traction and slowly accelerate. If you live in an especially snowy climate, consider keeping a small shovel in your vehicle to remove snow from around the tires to help gain traction. If the forecast calls for freezing rain, take extra precaution, even to the point of not making the drive.
Slow down and stay safe
Driving in wet weather presents challenges, but they are not impossible. Here's a simple rule to remember: increased speed increases the risks. Brake earlier and more gradually than you would normally. Plan to drive at a slower pace when roads are wet and remember traffic is more likely to be moving slower as well, so you'll need more time to arrive at your destination. If it's raining so hard you can't see the road or cars in front of you, pull over and wait for the precipitation to lessen. If they are calling for icy conditions stay home if possible. By being aware of the road conditions, reducing speed and preparing for challenging situations you'll greatly reduce the likelihood of a wet weather accident.