The simple rules to remember that can make your journey easier and safer when driving in the wet
With forecasters predicting a wet and stormy Christmas getaway, the prospect of driving in heavy rain is rearing its head once again for many in Britain. For many, it’s a daunting task, and no wonder – rain not only reduces visibility, but also the amount of grip your car has, increasing stopping distances.
But drive along a motorway in heavy weather, and it’s clear that for others, the opposite is true; many of Britain’s motorists are so over-confident in rain that they barely modify their driving style to suit, if at all.
That’s why we’ve put together a guide to driving safely in wet weather. If you find rain scary when you’re on the road, then following these key pointers will help you stay safe. And even if you’re confident in the rain, have a read through, and check you’re driving as safely as you could be.
Yes, you’ve heard it on the weather forecast all the time, but people say it for a reason. Put simply, if you don’t go out, you can’t come to any harm on the road. Is your journey really that urgent or important?
If not, it might be better to stay in, have a cup of tea, and wait until the rain passes. That sounds to us like an infinitely better idea than getting stuck in a queue or, worse, at the side of the road with a crashed or broken-down car as the heavens open.
If you do decide to venture out, then before you leave, you should try and make a quick check of your lights. Turn on your dipped beams, and check the lights are working on both sides, at the front and at the back.
When the rain does start to fall, you should turn your headlights on. Don’t just assume they already are – many cars’ instruments light up even when the headlights are turned off these days, which can be misleading.
Rather than relying on the lights on your instrumentation, you should check the position of your headlamp switch and make sure it is set to the dipped beam setting. This will improve your vision, and enable other drivers to see you in good time.
If you have automatic headlamps, make sure these have activated – or if you can’t, override them manually by turning the headlamp switch to the dipped beam setting.
Remember, you mustn’t use your fog lamps unless the visibility is very poor – rear fog lamps will dazzle other road users, and the effect is intensified when there is spray coming out from the rear of the car. Front fog lamps have the same effect, but for cars ahead of you.
The Highway Code says that you should only use your fog lamps when the visibility drops below 100m. A good rule of thumb is to think about whether you can see the tail lights of the car in front of you. If you can’t, and you know it isn’t that far away, you (and they) should probably be using rear fog lamps. However, if you can, you probably don’t need them.Rain does not mean you need to use your main beam headlamps any more or less often than you would normally. You shouldn’t leave them on when you are driving towards or behind other traffic, as it will dazzle those drivers.
If you’re in any doubt about which lights to use, put yourself in the position of other drivers around you. Ask yourself what your car looks like to them, whether they can see you, and whether they might be blinded by any of your lights.
Cast your mind back to your driving test, and you’ll remember that stopping distances increase in the wet. But can you remember by how much?
In actual fact, it takes about twice as long to stop on a wet road as it does on a dry one. So you should increase the distance between you and the car you’re following by about that much.
A good rule of thumb is that you should be around four seconds behind the car in front of you if the road is wet. That way, if that car has to stop suddenly – or worse still, crashes into a car in front – you will have time to stop, or take avoiding action.
To check you’re far enough away, watch for the car in front to pass an object – a lamp post, bridge or sign. Then count how many seconds go by before you pass the same object. If it’s under four seconds, you should back off and allow more space.
Driving in the wet isn’t just about leaving more space, though. You should also try and avoid sudden moves that might unbalance the car, such as sharp steering or braking. Doing so increases the likelihood of your car skidding.
Keep an eye on what’s around you, too. And remember that large vehicles kick up more spray, so if you’re about to pass one, you should be prepared to increase the speed of your windscreen wipers to compensate.
Also, if another driver is following you too closely or driving aggressively, don’t be tempted to react. It’s easier and safer to concentrate on your own driving, perhaps pulling over to let them go on their merry way if you’re able to, than to do something provocative that might cause them to crash into you.
What to do if you aquaplane
You might have heard of the term ‘aquaplaning’, but be uncertain what it means. It refers to what happens when your car’s tyres encounter lots of water that’s standing on the road – more than they can clear.
The result is that the water builds up under the tyre, lifting it away from the road surface. Once it loses contact with the Tarmac, you’re effectively ‘surfing’ along on top of the water, with little or no grip.
You can usually tell if you’re aquaplaning because your steering will suddenly feel light and unresponsive, and you can hear the displaced water roaring against the inside of the car’s wheel arches. If it happens to you, resist the temptation to brake – doing so will almost certainly cause you to skid, which could have disastrous consequences.
Instead, you should stay as calm as you can, take your foot off the accelerator pedal gently, and allow the car to slow down by itself, while keeping the steering pointing in the direction of travel.
Eventually, the tyres will bite down through the water and come back into contact with the road, at which point you should regain control.
Never forget that floods are inherently dangerous, and before you try driving through one, you should be absolutely certain that it’s safe to do so.
And even if you think the flood is relatively safe, remember that driving through deep water can cause serious damage to your car which might not be covered by your insurance company.
Watch other cars driving through to get a feel for how deep the flood is. If there are no other cars around, don’t risk it – there may be submerged obstacles, or the water might be fast-flowing, which could sweep your car away.
If you’re in any doubt whatsoever, turn around and find another route.
If you do opt to drive on, though, make sure your path is clear right the way through to the other side of the flood. Don’t drive into the water when there is still another car driving through the flood. They might stop, which would strand you in the water.
Try and keep the car at the highest point on the road, if it’s safe to do so, so that it’s as far out of the water as it can get.
Don’t drive too fast, as this might cause you to aquaplane. Instead, find a steady speed you’re comfortable with.
Once you’ve accelerated up to that speed, try not to slow down, if you can help it. Any reduction in speed can cause water to flow back into the radiator grille and be ingested into the engine, or even to be sucked up by the exhaust pipe. Either will likely cause expensive damage, potentially even writing the car off.
As you reach the other side of the flood, drive out of the water carefully, and test your brakes before continuing your journey.