Heavy rains are a fact of driving life in this country, especially this time of year. In extreme conditions, the safest thing to do is stay off the roads altogether. But if you have to drive regardless of the weather, here are some tips to help keep you safe in heavy rain and wind.
1. Be sure you can see
You need to be able to see clearly out all the windows. Be sure the wipers are functioning properly and adjust the speed, up to the maximum if necessary, to ensure you have a clear view ahead. You may have to adjust the climate control system to defrost mode as well, to keep the windshield and side windows clear on the inside. Turn on the rear window defogger, too, if needed. And keep looking as far ahead as you can see in the conditions, while also keeping track of the traffic around you.
2. Be sure you can be seen
Be sure you’ve turned on your headlights – daytime running lights don’t necessarily activate a vehicle’s taillights so turning on the headlamps will help ensure your vehicle is visible to others. If your vehicle has fog lights, now is the time to use them. They might help increase what you can see at night but they’ll also help you be seen and you need to be as visible to others as possible.
3. Slow down
As in any conditions that marginalize your safety on the road, slowing down helps increase the odds you’ll make it to your destination safely. It’s important to drive within the reaction limits of what you can see, plus your vehicle’s traction may be increased by as much as half in the wet. That means it could take twice as far to stop.
4. Give yourself room
Leave more space between your vehicle and the one ahead so you have room to stop safely. While at least a two-second spacing is recommended in dry conditions, as much as five seconds may be necessary in heavy rain. Also, try to allow more space around your vehicle in case others make sudden moves into your vehicle’s path.
5. Be smooth
Just as when driving on ice, be gentle when depressing the accelerator or applying the brakes. Don’t make sudden moves with the steering wheel, either. Try to relax your "death grip" on the steering wheel – it will help you be smoother with your steering corrections. Remember the tires are struggling to get grip so any quick movements can destroy what traction they have. Rather than using the brakes to simply adjust speed, slow the vehicle down by easing off the accelerator – but remember, you’ll need more distance to do so. Do not use Cruise control in these conditions.
6. Keep two hands on the wheel
Maintaining control of your vehicle is much easier with proper hand position. Keep both hands on the wheel at all times, but especially when encountering transient conditions. Place both hands at the same height on each side of the wheel, in the 8-to-10 and 2-to-4 positions as the spokes allow. The 9 and 3 position is considered ideal where possible. Doing so will give you maximum sensitivity to what it going on with the vehicle and the best ability to respond quickly and smoothly.
7. Avoid driving in deep water
Water tends to pool in low spots or grooves on roadways. Steer around them – gently – if you can. Hitting a patch of deep water at speed can jerk the steering one way or the other unpredictably. If you have to go through it, ease off on the accelerator and hold the steering wheel steady to maintain the direction you want to go.
8. Be prepared for strong winds
Heavy rain is often accompanied by strong, sometimes gusty winds. In steady wind, adjust pressure on the steering wheel to maintain the direction you want to go and adjust smoothly as conditions change. In gusty conditions, be prepared to take corrective action immediately, smoothly and in small increments. The key factor in responding to wind forces is to keep steering where you want to go. It's important to respond quickly but do so in small increments and don't jerk the wheel. Be careful not to turn the wheel too much or you'll go too far the other way.
9. Be patient
Accept that your trip is going to take longer in these conditions. Forget about trying to pass slower vehicles, especially trucks, and adjust your position to stay out of their road spray. Following a safe distance behind them may be the safest place to be.
10. Stop driving if you need to
If visibility becomes too limited to maintain a safe and comfortable speed, find a safe place to pull completely off the road - not just onto the shoulder - and stop until conditions improve. Be sure to keep the vehicle’s lights on and turn on the four-way flashers. Stay in the vehicle. It’s usually the safest place to be.
Driving in heavy rain is risky but by following the steps mentioned here you’ll increase the likelihood of arriving safely at your destination.