Hydroplaning can occur on any wet road surface. When it rains or snows, water mixes with oil residue on the road to create slippery conditions for drivers. Although most drivers fear accidents in heavy rain and thunderstorms, the first 10 minutes of a light rain can be the most dangerous for hydroplaning because drivers are not prepared for hazardous road conditions. The potential of car accidents and injuries increases significantly in poor weather conditions.
Although rubber tire treads are designed to improve friction with the road and reduce water beneath the tires, most are not designed to prevent hydroplaning. On slippery surfaces, tires often separate from the road surface and lose traction, causing immediate loss of steering control and braking power. Vehicles traveling faster than 35 mph on wet roads can quickly hydroplane and skid into other motorists, pedestrians, and structures in their path.
Reducing the Risks of Hydroplaning
When driving in the rain, drivers should take precautions to prevent hydroplaning on slippery roads:
- Rotate and balance the tires every seven to ten thousand miles
- Maintain proper tire tread and air pressure
- Reduce driving speed to less than 35 mph
- Avoid driving through puddles and standing water
- Avoid making fast or sudden turns and passing other cars
- Turn off the cruise control
Hydroplaning can occur in small amounts of standing water on rural roadways, city streets, and busy freeways, but roads that are less traveled may be more dangerous than busy roads and freeways where heavy traffic helps to dissipate water and oil residue. In any case, drivers are safer traveling in the middle lanes on multi-lane roads, rather than the outer lanes where water typically builds up faster.
Recovering from Hydroplaning
Once a car starts to hydroplane, it can be difficult to gain control of the vehicle when it’s skidding across the road, especially at high speeds. Hydroplaning creates a frightening and dangerous situation for drivers, because it usually happens quickly and many drivers don’t know what to do to regain control of the car. It also creates dangers for other drivers, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians who unexpectedly find themselves in the path of the skidding car. By following certain steps, drivers can regain control of their vehicle and recover from a dangerous situation.
Ease Off the Gas
Many drivers instinctively slam on their brakes in a skid, but this causes the vehicle to skid even more when it is hydroplaning. To regain control of the car, drivers should ease their foot off the gas pedal, keep a firm grip on the steering wheel, and steer the car in the right direction.
Applying the brakes slowly and carefully slows down skidding and brings the car to a safe stop. For cars with regular brakes, it’s best to pump the brakes gently instead of using steady pressure. If the car has anti-lock brakes, drivers should brake normally, but carefully and softly, until the tires make contact with the road again, then bring the car to a stop. After the car comes to a safe stop and the driver is calm, he/she can continue driving.