Cars today are incomparably safer than in the past, but rain is still an enemy you should never underestimate. Wet conditions have a major impact on tyre grip, and pools of water on the road can cause aquaplaning – the frightening situation in which a build-up of water prevents contact between tyres and asphalt. Conditions are particularly hazardous in the autumn when the weather tends to be wet and cold and fallen leaves form a slippery mass on the roads.
Here are eight ways to drive more safely in rainy weather…
1. Take it easy
The basic rule of driving in wet conditions is simple: steering, throttle and brakes must all be used more gently than usual. Most new cars are fitted with electronic stability programme (ESP), which detects and reduces skidding. Despite what many people think, this should not be switched off in wet conditions. If your car doesn't have ESP, it's worth using higher gears compatible with the speed at which you're travelling so that the wheels will be less prone to skidding.
2. Ensure good visibility
In addition to reduced grip, drivers must also deal with visibility issues caused by rain. Windscreen wipers need to be in perfect working order to cope with both rainfall and the spray thrown up by other cars as they navigate soaked roads – particularly those that aren't draining well. Meanwhile, in-car climate controls reduce the risk of fogging up; there is often a specific button to direct air to the windscreen to clear it faster.
3. Pay extra attention to road signs
It's always important to acknowledge road signs but in the wet it becomes all the more vital, enabling you to react in good time by adjusting your speed and helping to keep you out of trouble. In particular, be aware of road signs that warn of slippery surfaces and those that announce humps and underpasses, which are at high risk of flooding.
4. Avoid deep water
If you cannot easily judge the depth of a puddle, be extra cautious. It could conceal a pothole capable of causing serious damage to tyres, rims and suspension – or even loss of control. It is best to avoid deep puddles altogether but if you can't safely steer around them, drive through them slowly. The same advice applies to flooding. The main risk of driving through deep water is inadvertently drawing it into the engine or getting the electrical system wet.
5. Drive cautiously
The key to driving in the wet is to adopt a more cautious style – moderating speed, avoiding distractions and keeping both hands firmly on the steering wheel. You should also increase the distance between your car and the one in front – ideally allowing around five seconds' braking distance. This will ensure you have enough time to react without having to resort to excessively sudden manoeuvres.
6. Watch out for foaming
Even the first drops of rain can cause problems, such as viscoplaning: when tyres find it hard to grip on even a thin layer of water. The rain mixes with dirt and oils deposited on the road to create a particularly slimy emulsion, which can appear as foam emerging from the asphalt.
7. Steer carefully
With caution and moderate speed, most dangerous situations can be averted but there is still a risk of oversteering or understeering in wet conditions. Instinct may lead to us accentuate steering, but this must be avoided because it makes the situation worse. The correct response is to lighten the throttle and straighten the steering wheel slightly until the wheels regain the right course.
See also: How to maximize your tyre life?
8. Learn how to tackle aquaplaning
Even at just 50 km/h, driving into puddles can cause aquaplaning. Water isn't expelled quickly enough through the tyre tread and this makes the car “float” and lose direction. Dips in the road surface are not the only cause. Progressive tyre wear and incorrect tyre pressure can also play a part.
To counteract aquaplaning, the best advice is to keep calm. Release the throttle, grip the steering wheel firmly, and lightly touch the brakes if necessary. In this way, you will transfer the load to the front axle, restoring the steering control faster. One final word of advice: even the most sophisticated safety systems could have long response times in a situation like this, so the driver's intervention must be prompt, decisive but delicate at the same time.