When you get behind the wheel, there are various risk factors that can impact your driving. One major factor that can affect driving conditions is the weather. This is especially true of rainy weather when the water meets the asphalt, creating conditions that can increase the likelihood of hydroplaning. Find out what hydroplaning refers to and what to do if you hydroplane.
What is hydroplaning?
Hydroplaning — which is sometimes referred to as aquaplaning — is when your vehicle skids across water because your tires don’t have enough traction to stay sturdy on the road. This typically occurs in rainy and wet conditions and can be a scary experience as it can feel like you’re losing control of your car.
The slippery asphalt makes it difficult for your tires to gain enough traction to move forward safely and can cause you to hydroplane. This may cause spinning in one direction and may lead to difficulties with braking or steering.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHA), “A roadway must have an appropriate level of pavement friction to ensure that drivers are able to keep their vehicles safely in the lane. Poor pavement conditions, especially wet pavement, have been identified as one of the major contributing factors in roadway departure crashes. When a pavement surface is wet, the level of pavement friction is reduced, and this may lead to skidding or hydroplaning.”
What to do when hydroplaning?
Wet weather can increase the likelihood of an accident. According to FHA data, the majority of car crashes due to weather occur in rainy and wet conditions with 70% happening on wet pavement and 46% occurring during rainfall. When you hydroplane, you could boost your chances of getting into a car accident.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that conditions are most dangerous within 10 minutes of rainfall and can occur even if you’re going 30 miles per hour or less. If your vehicle begins to hydroplane, you should stay calm and take the following steps.
What to do when hydroplaning:
- Take your foot off the accelerator
- Avoid hitting the brakes
- Position the steering wheel toward the same direction you’re going
- If possible, let your car slow down on its own and avoid braking hard, but if you must brake, hit the brake gently
- For drivers with a manual transmission, you can release the clutch
- Regain control of the car and head to safety
Once you’re in the clear, you can pull over somewhere safe and recalibrate your nervous system with some deep breaths and a sigh of relief. If there is an incident with another car or damage to your vehicle while hydroplaning, call for help ASAP.
What not to do when hydroplaning?
Now that you know what to do if you hydroplane, here’s what not to do when hydroplaning. Some of these can seem counterintuitive, but following the course can ensure you regain control of your car faster.
- Don’t speed up as a way to get out of the wet area, which can backfire
- Avoid slamming your brakes
- It may seem like you can steer in the opposite direction to counteract the spinning, but you want to steer in the direction you’re going
- Avoid using cruise control in wet driving conditions
Knowing what not to do when hydroplaning is just as important as what to do when hydroplaning so you can find sturdy ground and get to safety.
Driving tips to prevent hydroplaning
If your vehicle begins to hydroplane you should take the steps listed above to navigate your car. But there are other things you can do in general to prevent hydroplaning. Here are some driving tips to prevent hydroplaning.
When the pavement is wet, and it’s raining, slow down your car. Keep safety in mind at all times. A reasonable speed in wet weather conditions may be slower than you’re used to but is best for everyone. In fact, going over 35 miles per hour may increase the likelihood of hydroplaning.
Avoid large puddles of water
Hydroplaning can happen with just a bit of water on the ground but is more likely to happen in large puddles of water. If you can see large puddles ahead, see if you can avoid them and drive around them. If you can, don’t drive right after the rain if possible, as engine oil and water can make the road super slippery.
Give yourself more time
Driving in a rush is always a safety hazard but even more so in the rain. Budget more time if it’s raining so you’re not in a rush and can go to your desired location safely.
Properly maintain tires
Check that your tires are properly inflated and avoid uneven tire wear, which may increase your chances of hydroplaning. Additionally, make sure your tires are rotated on a regular basis. If you live in an area that is very rainy, replace your tires as needed and keep them in good shape. Having the right tires that are high-quality can help avoid hydroplaning.
Say no to cruise control
Cruise control may make driving easier in some cases but should absolutely be avoided in wet weather conditions such as rain, snow, and ice. It may be more difficult to stop and navigate your vehicle with this setting on.
Using these driving tips, you can best equip yourself to stay safe on the road, no matter the weather.
The bottom line
Figuring out what to do when hydroplaning is scary in the moment. If your vehicle begins to hydroplane you should remain calm, stop accelerating and steer in the same direction your car is moving. Hydroplaning can be a frightening experience so knowing what to do ahead of time and keeping the driving tips above in mind, can help. To stay safe and protected, make sure your car insurance meets your needs. If you need collision coverage or other types of car insurance and are a low-mileage driver, you could benefit from pay-per-mile insurance coverage. Using Metromile, you pay a base rate and several cents for each mile you drive. Grab a free quote to see your potential savings.
Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function.