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Water HazardsDriving in the rain

Protect yourself from hydroplaning on wet roads

by Bob Cerullo

Hydroplaning is possibly one of the most frightening things that can happen to any driver short of being involved in a major collision. There u are, driving along at 50 or 60 mph in the rain, and suddenly your car is out of control. Some drivers have no idea why their car suddenly stopped responding to their turning the steering wheel and applying the brakes. Oftentimes, drivers who are interviewed after a collision caused by hydroplaning will say, I dont know what happened, but I couldnt control the car.

The one thing all hydroplaning problems have in common is the presence of water on the roadway. Heres what happens when a hydroplaning car goes out of control:  As the tires roll over the surface of a road that is wet after or during a heavy rain or when water has accumulated because of poor drainage, a wedge of water builds up just in front of the tire where it meets the road. If your tires are in good shape, they will flush away the wedge of water at lower speeds and allow the tire tread to grip the road for steering and braking. But when tires are worn or bald, the wedge of water does no get flushed away and the tires actually climb up on top of the wedge, losing contact with the road. Once the tires are floating on the water, the car is hydroplaning. The deeper the water, the more likely a hydroplane will occur. At slow speed, the tire simply squeezes the water away. At higher speeds, it is harder to flush away the water. Tires with deep tire treads and tires specifically designed as rain tires work best. But even the best tires may hydroplane at higher speeds. And worn tires may start to hydroplane at speeds as low as 30 mph. The best advice for any driver encountering water on the roadway is to slow down. It is nearly impossible to know the depth of water on a roadway. Aside from hydroplaning, driving fast into water may cause a splash that could momentarily blind you or a nearby driver. Hitting water at high speeds may also cause water to splash up under the hood and cause the engine to die out. That could leave you dangerously stranded on a busy lane where following cars have minimal control.

Again the most important thing to remember no mater how good your tires are, no matter if you have antilock brakes, four-wheel drive or traction control is to slow down!

Your best safeguard against a potentially out-of-control hydroplaning experience is to slow down to below 30 mph when the roadway is covered with water and to avoid any puddles of accumulated water on the roadway.


*Make sure that all four of the tires on your car are in good condition. That means they must have a good amount of tread left that will allow water to be flushed out of the path of the tire as it meets the road. Ask your service dealer to measure the tire tread depth and advise you if it is adequate to keep you safe.

*In rainy weather, slow down to a safe speed. If need be, pull off the road in a dangerous downpour with limited visibility and a high risk of hydroplaning.

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