Sometimes it is easy to forget just how dangerous driving can be. Often, the “it won’t happen to me” mentality can make it easy to ignore safety precautions, if some run of the mill defensive driving will ensure their safety. However, it is key to consider that everyone around you on the road – from the newest of new teen drivers to the most experienced truckers on their 12th straight hour of driving – are in control of multi-ton steel and gasoline machines traveling upwards of fifty miles per hour.
And while driving itself has inherent dangers, driving during a rainstorm, whether a light drizzle or a monsoon, raises the stakes quite a bit. It is critically important to take the steps to ensure your own safety when driving in the rain.
Use Your Windshield Wipers
Starting off with the most obvious step one of safe driving in the rain: ensure your wipers are both on and turned to the right speed. All modern cars come equipped with variable speed wipers, that way you are not struggling to keep your visibility high during an absolute downpour, while also not distracting yourself with high-speed wiper arms shooting across your field of vision when it is just sprinkling out. Setting and adjusting your wiper speed to correlate with the heaviness of the rain should always be your step one.
Turn on Your Headlights
A far-too-commonly ignored bit of advice: if your wipers are on, so are your headlights. Many people, especially novice drivers, are hesitant to touch their headlights until it is pitch-black outside. While flipping your lights on during a light drizzle may not feel like it gives you any additional visibility during the daytime or early afternoon, that is beside the point. In this situation, flicking your headlights on will make you more visible to others – an incredibly important facet of safe driving.
Regardless of whether you are traversing back roads or flying down the highway, it is far, far easier to spot a vehicle coming up on your left if that cars headlights have been turned on while it is raining outside. Some states in the United States even go as far as to implement laws mandating that drivers use headlights during rainstorms to prevent unnecessary accidents and preserve lives.
Speaking of flying down the highway – do not. When it rains, the roadways become significantly slicker. And while the asphalt that paves most streets is, of course, designed for aiding in a tire’s attempt to gain traction, it is far from foolproof. A slicker, wet road – especially one with an inch or two of rain coating the surface – can quickly become a death trap for those not paying enough attention.
Speed is a huge (if not the biggest) factor in many car accidents, whether rain is involved or not. Most commonly a good rule of thumb is said to be an approximately ⅓ reduction in driving speed during a rainstorm. This means dropping from 60 miles per hour to about 40, or from 25 to about 18. Not only does slowing down allow for you to increase the traction your car is getting around turns and when accelerating or decelerating, it also gives you, the driver, more time, and space to react to what is going on around you.
Drive Predictably, Not Defensively
Though the commonly used directive to newer drivers is to drive “defensively” (meaning, in most cases, the opposite of aggressively), a wiser option may be to drive predictably. Defensive driving could mean allowing someone to skip the right-of-way when it comes to a stop sign, letting that distracted looking driver across the street simply go ahead of you. Predictable driving, though, involves doing what other drivers around you on the road think you are intending to do. If you are about to slow down to take a right turn, flip your turn signal on. Yes, this advice is obvious (and follows the letter of the law) but is a perfect example of the ways you can dictate to others around you what you intend to do and allow for them to react appropriately.
It is entirely possible that a pedestrian, biker, or different driver on the road anticipated that you, and not the distracted driver at the stop sign, would be the one to go (as you had the right of way) and face unintended consequences. The idea of driving predictably should be driven home even more in wet road conditions.
Learn the Do’s and Don’ts
Of course, educating yourself on the ins and outs of driving should be step one to operating a vehicle at all, many situations you could find yourself in when driving in the rain do not come up quite as often, and are easy to forget. Learn how to deal with your car hydroplaning or fishtailing (which are often not what many drivers assume them to be) before it happens so that you can be safe when it happens.
If It is Too Much, Pull Over
Sometimes even with your wipers on the fastest setting, your headlights on, your predictable driving at the forefront, and armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of hydroplaning, the rain is still simply just coming down too hard for you to manage. At that point, consider simply pulling your car over and waiting it out for a little bit. Driving with little to no visibility – even with other precautions in place – is never advisable. If you have reached the point that prevents you from seeing more than a few feet in front of your vehicle, pull over to the side of the road or a parking lot, flip your hazards on for visibility, and try seeing if the store lightens up before getting on your way.