Hydroplaning: Do’s and Dont’s

Posted on by Defensive Driving | in Defensive Driving Tips

While hydroplaning my sound like a fun water sport, it’s actually incredibly dangerous. Essentially, hydroplaning occurs when a car’s tires lose contact with the road; driving a car that is hydroplaning is similar to driving on ice.

In dry conditions, the wheels of a car have no problem “gripping” the road. As the road becomes wet, however, maintaining the friction between wheels and road is more difficult. The grooves in car tires are designed to channel water away from the front of the tires, essentially “clearing” the water from the road and allowing the tire to grip. Hydroplaning occurs when, for one reason or another, the water isn’t getting cleared fast enough; water pressure builds in front of the tire until the water pushes under the tire and lifts the wheel off the road.

COMMON CAUSES OF HYDROPLANING

1. Speed. The faster you drive in wet conditions, the more likely it is that your car will hydroplane. Basically, you aren’t giving the tires enough time to funnel water away from the wheel. Driving slower in wet conditions will help to prevent hydroplaning. As a rule of thumb, drive at two-thirds of your normal speed.
2. Tire condition. Worn tire treads don’t function effectively. Make sure to check your tread depth regularly; you can do this by inserting a penny, upside down, into the tread. The tread should cover at least part of Lincoln’s head. Tires with low pressure can also cause hydroplaning; checking your air pressure regularly is another key preventive measure.
3. Depth of water. Naturally, your car is more likely to hydroplane on deeper water. For this reason, try to avoid puddles whenever possible and be extra careful in very heavy rainfall. An important note: The first rainfall on a dry road will bring the dirt and oil on the road to the surface. This makes more an especially slick, and dangerous, surface.

HOW TO RECOGNIZE HYDROPLANING

Hydroplaning is not as obvious as, say, a skid. When your car begins to hydroplane, you may notice a “loose” feeling as the car loses contact with the road. The steering may also feel loose or too easy. If you’re on a straight, you can try making small turns to see if you still have steering control. You can also look behind you (or have a passenger do so for you.) You should be able to see dry “tracks” in the water behind you where your wheels have made contact with the pavement. If there aren’t any tracks, you’re probably hydroplaning.

DOS AND DON’TS

First of all, when hydroplaning, DON’T:
1. Brake suddenly.
2. Turn suddenly.
These actions will throw your car into a skid.
What TO DO depends on what kind of car you are driving.

For ALL FRONT WHEEL DRIVE CARS and REAR WHEEL DRIVE CARS WITH TRACTION CONTROL AND ABS:*
1. Identify an open space ahead.
2. Depress the accelerator slightly.
3. Steer gently in the direction of the open space.

For REAR DRIVE CARS WITHOUT TRACTION CONTROL AND ABS:
1. Identify an open space ahead.
2. Ease off the accelerator.
3. Steer gently in the direction of the open space.
You should regain control of the car shortly.

NOTE: Never activate cruise control when driving in wet conditions. Your car will recognize the build-up of water under the tires, which leads to hydroplaning, as a “slow down” and send more power to the wheels. This increased power will increase the water build-up and exacerbate the problem.

To see a video on hydroplaning, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdwuftIUwYY .

*Cars with traction control and ABS will have icons on the dashboard that indicate these functions.

To learn more about this topic, or a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Battery”, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!
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