Wind the clocks back twelve months and our safe driving article was mainly focussed on freezing temperatures, snow and ice. December 2015’s now here and most of us haven’t seen any white stuff yet at all this year and have maybe only had to scrape ice off of our cars once or twice. So far this autumn, the challenge has been the rain, which has just kept on coming and coming for what really does seem like forty days and forty nights. If you really can’t put your feet up and delay a car journey until the rain’s eased slightly, the potentially scary experience can be tackled by heeding the following advice.
Before setting off, try and give your windscreen wipers a quick clean with a cloth or rag, and make sure your car’s lights all work, with no damage to them or dirt obscuring them. If your windscreen wipers create a smear or are in poor condition, it’s wise to replace them. Large vehicles, like delivery lorries and buses, create a lot of spray, so you’ll need to increase the wiper speed when passing them. Remember that your footwear will probably be wet, meaning reduced grip on the pedals, so if possible, wipe your feet on the driver’s mat before setting off.
Headlights should be turned on when driving in heavy rain and even in drizzle, as sidelights aren’t enough to ensure others can see you. If your car has fancy LED lights at the front, which are on all the time, try to manually turn your actual headlights on, which will activate your taillights too. Just because your dashboard is illuminated or your daytime lights are on doesn’t mean your car is suitably lit up. Only use main or full beams when you normally would, and don’t use fog lights unless visibility really does become so poor that you can’t see the car in front’s taillights.
Rain naturally makes people want to drive faster to get to their dry, warm destinations more quickly, but changing to a sensible, careful, slower driving style is required in the wet, and it’s vital to double the distance you normally keep in relation to cars in front. Be careful not to make any sudden movements, such as sharp braking or steering, because wet surfaces are so much harder to control a car on.
Keep your eyes peeled for potholes, puddles and other pools of standing water, and try to avoid them if at all possible. Even puddles near the kerb that look shallow can hide rocks, dangerous objects or ridges beneath, which can damage a tyre or wheel, and could cause the car to swerve. Don’t forget that it could land you with a police caution or fine if you splash a pedestrian or cyclist on purpose. Besides, creating large splashes with your car may be fun, but it could damage your engine.
If it’s been raining hard for days, remember that flood water will likely have built up at the bottom of a fair few slopes. Approach large puddles or patches of flood water slowly and cautiously, using a low gear, and make a retreat if the water level comes upto the bottom of your car’s doors or covers more than a third of the height of one of the wheels. Never try driving across or through water that is moving fairly fast, as your car could be swept away – with you inside.
Motorways can become flooded, too, resulting in a particularly unpleasant thing called aquaplaning. The word itself and the fact it means your car is technically surfing may sound cool, but it basically means control over the car is lost, as the wheels are no longer in contact with the ground. Don’t be tempted to brake, instead focussing on keeping a tight hold of the steering wheel and driving in a straight, steady line, out of the water. Take your foot off the accelerator and let your car slow down naturally. It can be best to avoid the outside (fast) lane of motorways for this reason, especially on dark, unlit stretches.
Heavy rain can actually get the better of windscreen wipers, making it very hard for a driver to see. In such situations, try to safely stop your car at the next available opportunity and wait for the deluge to ease off a bit. A problem particularly affecting older cars is when the windows becoming misted up. Switching the air con on and directing it upwards to the windows usually helps; otherwise, try winding a window down slightly for a short while.