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What is Hydroplaning in Driving Your Car?

Hydroplaning, or aquaplaning, is when your car’s tires lose traction with the road and glide on a film of water. Hydroplaning can be terrifying for drivers because they have no control of their vehicle, especially if the car is in a prolonged skid towards oncoming traffic. It happens in an instant. If you aren’t sure what to do when your car is hydroplaning or how to prevent it from happening, the following information will tell you everything you need to know.

What Causes Hydroplaning?

Most drivers believe the roads need to be drenched to be unsafe. They also think the most dangerous time to drive on wet pavement is during a downpour. Both misconceptions are false. A damp road is enough to put your vehicle at risk of hydroplaning. The most dangerous time is driving during the first ten minutes of rainfall, even if it is light rain. Why? Because oil hasn’t been drained from the road yet, it beads up and makes driving conditions slick. To put it in numbers, 1/10 of an inch of water can cause hydroplaning. The deeper the water is, the higher your chances are of hydroplaning.

How does a car, weighing a ton, glide on a tenth of an inch of water? Surface tension and speed. Without getting into the scientific specifics of water and surface tension, it’s the same as waterskis gliding on the ocean. Surface tension allows water to carry your tires when you’re going fast. Instead of the tires touching the road, they move on top of the water – hydroplaning.

Drivers will know when their vehicle is hydroplaning. The vehicle will feel like it’s skidding or veering on its own. If all four tires lose traction, your car will slide forward in a straight line. If only your rear wheels lose traction, the rear of your car will veer to the side. If your driving wheels lose traction, your tachometer and speedometer might go up.

How to Prevent Hydroplaning

“Each year, 75% of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on wet pavement, and 47% happen during rainfall,” according to the Federal Highway Administration. You can reduce your chances of becoming a part of this statistic and increase your safety by taking the following precautions:

Check Local Road Conditions

Don’t get caught off guard by inclement weather or light rainfall. Keep yourself informed of weather and road conditions to plan accordingly. Leave early, so you’re not in a rush to be on time. Reconsider your usual route and means of transport. Can you take public transportation instead? Is there a better-maintained road that will be safer for you? Does your route have proper draining? For example, flooding can be an issue under viaducts, so take a different course for your safety.

Avoid Driving Your Car Through Water Puddles

As previously mentioned, the deeper the water, the more likely you are of hydroplaning. Driving in the driver’s tracks in front of you at a safe distance helps decrease the risk of hydroplaning. The driver’s wheels in front of you have already displaced water, making it a tad safer for you. If you didn’t know, never drive in 12 inches of flowing water. That is tall enough to sweep away a car.

Perform Monthly Tire Wear Tests

The wear of your tires contributes significantly to how efficient they are at keeping traction. The tread depth of your tires displaces water as you drive. A tire pumps a whopping eight gallons of water per second from under your vehicle. How will a driver know if they have an adequate tread depth? Wear bars and the penny test will help show the quality of your wheel.

Wear Bars

If a driver can see their tire’s wear bars, get new tires immediately because it means you have little to no tread depth. This is also known as having bald tires. Bald tires are hazardous for driving because there is no way for your tires to displace water and maintain traction, significantly increasing your chances of hydroplaning.

The Penny Test

Place a penny in the groove of your tire with the top of lincoln’s head towards the tire. Your tire needs to come to Lincoln’s hairline, at least. If your tire doesn’t cover any part of Lincoln’s head, your tread depth is too low. Get new tires ASAP! Each state is different, but according to most states’ laws, your tire needs a minimum tread depth of 2/32 of an inch.

Additional factors to consider about your tires are their inflation and type. Under or over-inflated tires increase your chances of hydroplaning. Although tread depth decreases automatically over time, under and over-inflation causes them to wear unevenly. It’s widely debated, but having all-season tires helps with handling and traction year-round and different weather conditions. Regardless of the type of tire you have, your tire tread depth is key.

Get Tires Rotated and Balanced

Speaking of tire wear, it is vital to have your tires rotated and balanced regularly so they wear evenly. You want your tires to wear evenly to maximize the life of their tread depth. You’ll thank yourself later when you’re safely driving on a wet surface.

Decrease Your Driving Speed

DRIVE SLOWLY. The consensus is that driving 35 mph or more significantly increases your chances of hydroplaning on the road. Increase safety by driving at least 5 - 10 mph below the speed limit when the road is wet. Never use cruise control or aggressively brake, accelerate, and turn in wet conditions. Cruise control won’t allow you to decelerate quickly, which is terrible for your safety. Allow for a safe driving distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. This will give you enough space to stop and regain control during wet road conditions.

During Hydroplaning, a Driver Should …

  • Stay calm and don’t panic
  • Never brake aggressively, or jerk the steering wheel
  • Ride It out
  • Keep both hands on the steering wheel
  • Steer in the direction of the skid if your rear wheels veer to one side (this keep your vehicle straight)
  • Gently decelerate by taking your foot off the gas, brake, or clutch
  • If you have an anti-lock braking system (ABS), gently brake normally
  • If you do not have ABS, gently pump your brake pedal
  • When you feel your tires regain traction, gently decelerate
  • Continue driving or pull over to a safe location to regain your composure

Did you know insurance providers offer a discount on car insurance if your vehicle has ABS? Speak to an Insurance Navy agent by calling (888) 949-6289 to get an affordable car insurance quote today.

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