Driving in rain, especially at night, can pose some serious challenges. Rain reduces the effectiveness of your headlights, causes poor visibility, and less traction. While driving a truck around the country, some of the worst accidents I saw occurred in rainy weather.
What the Numbers Say
Rain is considered one of the top reasons why drivers get into car accidents. Roads become slicker, making them dangerous surfaces for all vehicle types. Driving cars, motorcycles, or trucks are all potentially dangerous in this weather condition.
A recent study from the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society found that the presence of rain, ice, and snow increases the likelihood of fatal car crashes by 34%. The US Department of Transportation studied traffic accidents between 2007 and 2016 and determined the extent of rain’s effect:
- Contributed 46% of weather-related crashes
- Contributed 51% of weather-related injuries
- Contributed 46% of weather-related fatalities
The numbers don’t lie. Driving in the rain is a potentially dangerous situation.
If it’s possible, see if you can wait for the weather to improve before heading out. If you really have to get going, increase your chances of staying safe by taking the following precautions.
Check Your Car Before You Head Out
While you’re still in the safety of your home (or at least in a warm, dry garage), take a couple of minutes to make sure your car’s in the appropriate condition to go through bad weather. The last thing you want is to realize something’s not working while you’re already on the road.
Check out your headlights, taillights, and windshield wipers to ensure everything’s in order. Roads are more slippery when it’s pouring, so take a peek at your tires to ensure they aren’t bald.
Speed is Not Your Friend
Staying within the speed limit is a good idea — driving slower is better. Reducing your speed to a third of how fast you usually go is a good rule to follow.
Your car is more challenging to control, and its reaction time is slower than if you’re driving on a clear day. In wet weather, you’d rather have more options to respond to a situation wherein you lose traction. Avoid using cruise control, even if it makes driving convenient.
Increase Your Visibility
Driving in the rain is unavoidable. We all have to do it sometimes. Planning ahead for those rainy days will keep you ready and prepared. Listed below are some quick and easy things you can do to prepare.
Replace Wipers Every 6 Months
It all starts at the windshield. A lot will depend on your exact location and climate, but I recommend that you replace your wipers twice per year or at an absolute minimum, every 12 months. I do it once in the fall, just before winter, then again in the spring. For some reason, people seem to use their wiper blades long after they are worn out. They aren’t that expensive and virtually anyone can replace them. Windshield wipers are your first line of defense for visibility! Get some nice blades, too. I prefer Rain-X wiper blades. It makes a world of difference.
Replace Wipers Every 6 Months
It all starts at the windshield. A lot will depend on your exact location and climate, but I recommend that you replace your wipers twice per year or at an absolute minimum, every 12 months. I do it once in the fall, just before winter, then again in the spring. For some reason, people seem to use their wiper blades long after they are worn out. They aren’t that expensive and virtually anyone can replace them. Windshield wipers are you first line of defense for visibility! Get some nice blades, too. I prefer Rain-X wiper blades. It makes a world of difference.
Use Water Repellant On The Windshield
Speaking of Rain-X, they also sell a product that you can wipe on your window. Most people are familiar with this product (or products like it). I apply Rain-X to my truck about once per month, sometimes twice. You can find Rain-X at Walmart in the automotive section, at any automotive store, or online. If you aren’t familiar with Rain-X, basically, it causes the water to bead up on the windshield and fly right off. Sometimes, you don’t even need to use your wipers! The catch is you need to keep up with it. If you don’t, it can start to smear and create a haze on your windshield. So about once per month, do a reapplication.
Wear Polarized Sunglasses
Yup, wearing polarized sunglasses will increase your visibility during rainy conditions. Obviously, you need to make a judgment call here and only wear them when it’s bright enough. This trick will not work at night. But during the day, wearing polarized sunglasses will reduce glare coming from the water and allow you to see further. This is a little-known trick but is used by truckers all the time.
Check Your Lights
You should periodically check out all your lights, even if your car has a warning indicator on the dash. If you need to replace a headlight, just replace them both. The other one is bound to go out soon anyway. You should always have spare lights in the car with you as well. Both headlights going out in the same night? It happens!
Improving Your Traction
Rain can, and certainly does, pose a serious risk to traction loss. People worry about traction in snow and ice, but when it comes to rain, nobody seems to care. A bunch of wet leaves on the ground or an oil slick near an intersection might as well be ice! Be prepared for those invisible slick spots!
Roads Are The Most Slick Shortly After Rain Begins
Traction is almost always worse when the rain first begins to fall. Over time, oil, gas, and fuel will form a thin layer on the top of the roadway surface. This is especially true near intersections where vehicles are frequently stopped. As the rain falls and mixes with that film, the roadway can become extremely slick in some areas, especially at stoplights and intersections. After a while, the rain will wash away the slick spots. But at first, it’s a nasty and slippery combination. These slick spots are the cause of thousands of accidents per year.
Watch The Road Surface
Keep a close eye on the road surface. Driving over any object can become very dangerous. What kind of object? How about leaves! Yes, regular ordinary leaves on the roadway become dangerous! The bottom side of the leaves form a slick film. This, in turn, creates a terrible traction situation.
Check for “dark puddles” on the roadway which may indicate oil or fuel is mixed in, creating a slick condition. Try to avoid any puddles, actually. I know, they are fun to drive through! But they could cause you to hydroplane, lose traction, and suddenly the puddle isn’t so much fun
What Is Hydroplaning?
When you “hydroplane” it means that your tires aren’t touching the roadway surface. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of driving in rain. You are actually skimming over the top of the water. This usually happens when people drive too fast over a water-covered roadway or have worn-out tires with little tread depth remaining. It’s quite a frightening experience. You can’t steer, stop, or do anything, really. In a sense, you are “water skiing” with your car. Not fun.
If you discover that you are hydroplaning, do not panic! Any sudden movements could cause you to spin out of control. Simply take your foot off the gas and allow the vehicle to coast. As you lose speed, the tires will make contact with the roadway surface again. If you can help it, while you’re hydroplaning, stay off the gas, brake, and keep the steering wheel as steady as possible.
Beware Of Black Ice
Most of you have probably heard the term “black ice” before, however, the ice is actually completely transparent. The reason it is called black ice is because blacktop surfaces tend to show through, giving the appearance that the roadway is simply wet. Black ice will take the color of whatever surface it is covering, whether it is blacktop, concrete, brick, or any other type of surface.
Black ice is extremely dangerous because generally, moisture falls as rain. If the ground temperature is below freezing, the rain will instantly freeze upon contact. This, in turn, creates ice that is not very visible. The roadway surfaces will look wet. Since drivers are driving through rain, this is expected and they may not think anything of the wet-looking road surface. To add to the danger, black ice is generally much slicker than any other type of ice. This, of course, is an extremely dangerous situation. Black ice is responsible for many deaths and injuries each year as well as horrific multi-car pile-up crashes.
In Case of a Skid
Sometimes, regardless of everything you do, you still find yourself in a less-than-desirable situation. If you begin to feel your car skidding, you can do the following:
- Don’t panic! Look and steer in the direction you want the car to go.
- Do not step on the brakes — it causes the car to be more imbalanced, making it harder to control.
If you are driving in rain, be sure to keep an eye on the outside temperature. You may also feel the outside of your car mirror (unless you have heated mirrors). If ice is forming on the outside of your mirror, it is highly likely that ice is forming on untreated roadways. Use extreme caution!