Innovate Blog

Summer Travel Tips - 5 Tips for Driving in the Rain

Part time storm chaser, full time transportation engineer. Who better to inform you of the hazards of driving in rainy conditions than our own expert? Andrew Smith started chasing storms at Virginia Tech 8 years ago and would track storms in-between classes. Now he can be found chasing locally for CBS6 when weather is threatening. Check out his 5 tips for driving in the rain below.

Summer is here and it can only mean one thing around Virginia: the return of oppressive, miserable humidity. With that humidity comes the threat of summer afternoon thunderstorms. Summer thunderstorms can produce torrential downpours that always seem to strike during rush hour and bring things to a screeching halt. Driving in the rain and heavy downpours can be challenging, but as long as you do some basic steps, you can make your travels much easier:

1. Slow down, back off.

 

It should go without saying that speed is not your friend in the rain. Reduced visibility and the threat of hydroplaning make driving in the rain difficult. Slowing down not only helps your ability to react to sudden changes ahead in the road, but reduces the risk of hydroplaning. You should also maintain a safe following distance between you and the cars in front of you. In the event traffic suddenly stops, slamming on your brakes could cause you to lose control. Maintaining a safe following distance allows you to brake more smoothly and maintain control.

2. Turn on your lights

 

In heavy rain events, it can become difficult to see other cars on the road. The use of headlights improves your visibility to others. In fact, in the state of Virginia, it is a law that your headlights must be on during a rainstorm, as well as during snow, sleet, fog, smoke, and other events of decreased visibility.

3. Avoid standing water

 

We all loved splashing in puddles as kids, but cars don’t really enjoy it as much. Standing water can do a number of things while driving: It can cause hydroplaning and complete loss of control of your car. It can also cause your car to suddenly veer depending on if the puddle only strikes one tire. If you can see an area of standing water on the road, try to avoid it. If you can’t, gently slow down (don’t slam on your brakes) and maintain a firm grip on the wheel until it has passed.

4. “Turn Around, Don’t Drown”

 

This phrase cannot be emphasized enough. If you come across a flooded road, turn around, don’t drown. You should never drive your car into a flooded roadway. Water is an extremely powerful force. It only takes a foot of moving water to move a small car. On top of that, when a road is flooded, it’s hard to tell if the road under the floodwater is even safe for passage. There’s a chance it could be washed out and even deeper than you first thought.


5. What happens if you hydroplane?

 

Hydroplaning can strike even in lighter rainstorms. In fact, the first 10 minutes of a rainstorm are the most dangerous as this is when rain stirs up oils and slicks that have been accumulating on the road surface since the last rain. Poor drainage and sheeting of water across the road can also contribute to hydroplaning. So what do you do if you suddenly feel a loss of control? First off, don’t panic. It can feel very scary to not have control of your vehicle, but sudden reactions can make your situation worse. It’s best to take your foot off the gas and keep the wheel straight. If your car begins to turn sideways, gently steer your car in the direction you want it to go so that when you do regain traction, your car will right itself in the proper direction.

Finally, you may have noticed in the past during heavy rain that cars around you were using their hazard lights. In the state of Virginia, this is actually illegal. By law, hazard light use is not permitted while driving. The only exceptions are for emergency vehicles, stopped or slowed vehicles to indicate a traffic hazard, when travelling as part of a funeral procession, or when travelling slower than 30 MPH. Other than cars in a funeral, all cars travelling higher than 30 MPH shall not use their hazard lights.

 


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