Heavy downpours are no stranger to this region. While it may not necessarily pose a direct threat to our well being as commuters, not taking sufficient precaution when driving under such conditions can invite unsavoury repercussions. A vehicle's tyres may lock up under hard braking or worse, sudden and drastic maneuvers which may cause a vehicle to spin out of control. The most fatal yet silent threat, we think however, is hydroplaning - a phenomenon that occurs even while you're cruising at low speeds, catching even the most cautious of drivers off-guard sometimes.
What is Hydroplaning?
Hydroplaning refers to the moment when a vehicle’s tyres is driven across standing water or wet surfaces, causing instability to the vehicle and in some cases, to skid or slide. These are instances when a tyre encounters more water than it can disperse causing it to lose traction or grip from the thin layer of water or oil residue that sits between the tyre and road surface.
The tread on a tyre is designed to channel water from beneath it which generates higher friction from better contact with the road surface. This can result in the prevention of hydroplaning or at least minimising it.
When does it happen?
Hydroplaning usually only occurs on wet road surfaces. That said, the first few minutes of rain can pose the most risk of hydroplaning as the rain drops get mixed with the oil residue on the road surface emitted from other vehicles.
When light rain mixes with oil residue on the road surface, it creates slippery conditions that can cause vehicles, especially those travelling in fast speeds, to hydroplane. This can be a deadly combination for the driver and surrounding motorists.
According to expert opinions, the risk of hydroplaning gets higher when a vehicle is travelling at speeds in excess of 60km/h. When such an occurrence takes place, the steering wheel usually either experiences an eerie sense of weightlessness.
How to Avoid?
Reduce and Avoid Sudden Increases in Speed
Obviously right? Avoiding sudden increases in speed also helps with the vehicles stability. As traction is reduced due to the slippery surface, the sudden surge of power may disorientate the tyres and cause it to slip and slide. The same applies to making sudden sharp turns; such maneuvers may violently disrupt the controllability of a vehicle.
Avoid Standing Water
Always, if possible, try to avoid puddles or standing water that usually accumulate by the banks of the road. Without following closely and ensuring a safe distance, apparently driving in the tracks of the vehicle in front of you helps too as the wet surface has been dispersed by the tyres of the vehicle up front allowing more contact surface for your tyres.
Keeping a distance between the vehicle in front from yours also helps with the instances of emergency braking, allowing sufficient distance in case the tyres lock up. In any case, it would be safer to avoid hard braking altogether.
Turn Off the Overdrive or Switch to a Lower Gear
The Overdrive function in some cars can come in handy as it helps hold the vehicle back with engine braking which in return helps provide more control of the vehicle. If your vehicle doesn’t come with that button, usually located by or around the gear lever, manually slip it down to 3rd gear or even 2nd depending on your vehicles speed.
If you have a manual transmission, always opt for the lower gears. While this act may use up a tad more fuel than usual, it’s a small price to pay in return for controllability.
Do Not Use Cruise Control
Cancel! Abort! Credit: clutchmagonline.com
As soon as rain falls, turn off the cruise control. This allows you to be more in touch with the controls of your vehicle, and if necessary, allows you to reduce speed more quickly as this is only possible if you’re able to anticipate and stay aware of the road conditions.
Having your cruise control on in the rain also reduces the time you have to disengage the system to regain full control of the vehicle as there’s only mere seconds to recover the vehicle in the event it hydroplanes and starts veering off course.
Never use your vehicle’s cruise control function while it is raining or while driving on wet roads. If you were to begin hydroplaning while driving with the cruise control on, it will take additional time for you to disable the function before beginning to regain control of your vehicle.
Always ensure the your tyres are properly inflated; an under inflated tire causes more wobble and instability on an already slippery surface. It is also recommended that the tyres be rotated when necessary under the guidance and recommendation by a qualified personnel.
In the first place, if possible, opt for a set of tyres which are able to disperse water from the road surface more efficiently.
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