Driving in bad weather — best safety tips
There were more than 445,000 injuries and 6,000 deaths due to weather-related driving accidents in 2019. Ouch! The good news is you do not need to be one of them. Be the safest driver in town with this handy guide:
How does rain affect driving conditions?
Rain is a fairly common weather condition for most drivers, so it’s easy to forget how dangerous it can be. However, according to a summary of various government statistics on car crashes, 46% of weather-related crashes happen in the rain. On top of that, 76% happen on wet pavement.
Bad weather affects a wide range of factors in your environment and best driving practices. For example, when driving in the rain, you could experience the following driving hazards:
- Poor light conditions and visibility
- Sudden window fogging
- Reduced tire grip on the pavement
- Changed traffic patterns
- Nervousness and distraction
- Wind gusts from weather or commercial vehicles
- Flooding or reduced street capacity
- Obstructions and delays
- Hydroplaning (tires lose all traction with the road)
- Bad vehicle performance (bad windshield wipers, stalled engines, poor tire grip, and other issues)
And that is just rain. It doesn’t even go into factors like freezing temperatures, traffic from severe weather evacuation and other things! The best way to guard against crashes is to practice safe driving measures for bad weather conditions.
Our top safety tips
Here are six of our best tips for driving safely in the rain:
- Don’t panic
Stress and nervousness can affect your driving performance. You want to be mindful and watchful, and you need to be calm enough to react well if a situation unfolds.
- Don’t drive when you don’t have to
During severe storms, heavy rain, dense fog, flooding and other conditions, it is almost always better to stay where you are until conditions improve. Think in terms of the following:
Do you need to go shopping? Or can you order in? Can your lunch date swap to dinner? Would it hurt to wait ten minutes and see if the weather lets up?
Can you cancel or reschedule?
- Be careful of other drivers
Some people will drive the same way they do in ideal conditions. This means their reaction times will be off, they could hydroplane (and panic), or any other number of other risks.
- Be mindful of all vehicles.
- Give yourself space and time to react if anything goes wrong.
- Watch out around driveways and intersections.
- Be extra careful when merging with traffic or changing lanes.
- Know your route
Don’t get caught unprepared in bad weather. Preview your route before you get in the car. Also be aware of the following:
- Your Pavement. James Solomon of the National Safety Council told Geico that roads are built with their local climate and weather factors in mind. For example, many southern roads are made with less asphalt density. This can make them look dry, but in reality, your tires can get slick and wet without you knowing!
- Your Environment. Know the flood zones and where water tends to stand. Know alternate routes to your destination in case the main roads get obstructed. Know which roads have or develop potholes in heavy rains so you can avoid them.
- Traffic Patterns. Avoid routes that get heavily congested in ideal weather. Likewise, know which ones are affected by standing water or extra congestion in the rain.
- Adapt to the weather conditions
Adjust your driving habits for the weather. For example:
- Drive slower to accommodate slick tires and improve your reaction time to inexperienced drivers. Make sure to budget in extra time for commutes to avoid anxiety.
- Give extra room to other vehicles so you can accommodate slower braking speeds. Be extra vigilant of brake lights ahead of you.
- Be more careful at the start of the rainstorm, especially after a dry spell. Fresh rain will bring up grease and oil that worked its way into the pavement.
- Avoid sudden movements and hard braking. Gentle steering, braking and accelerating help offset the reduced tire grip on the road.
- Turn off cruise control. Ironically, cruise control becomes “lose control” during wet weather conditions. You cannot adjust your speed for weather or loss of traction with cruise control on.
- Lights, but not brights. Even if your vehicle has auto runners, manually turn on the lights so your tail lights will also shine. This will help outline all four corners of your vehicle for other drivers.
At the same time, avoid brights when you can, as the raindrops will reflect the light back into your eyes and obscure your vision. They can also blind and annoy other drivers.
Stay away from large trucks and buses. If you have reduced visibility, so do they. They might not see you as you try to pass. Large vehicles also kick up large sprays of water, which can significantly reduce your visibility.
Turn on your defroster, especially if your car is prone to fogging. You can go from a clear window to dense fog in seconds in the right conditions. Your defroster will help offset or avoid the problem altogether.
Drive in another vehicle’s tracks. Give the person ahead plenty of space, but use their tire tracks as a path. The path will make it slightly easier for your tires to grab the road.
- Know what to do
The best thing you can do for yourself is to be prepared. You are far less likely to suffer in an accident if you know what to do if you hydroplane or your route is flooded.
- Turn around; don’t drown. If you aren’t sure how deep standing water is, don’t go through it. It only takes a few inches for water to get into most vehicle engines and stall you out.
If the water is too deep, the car can also float and take on water. It can even be carried away!
Even if the water is shallow, it could be hiding potholes, sharp debris, or other hazards that can lead to damage and breaking down in the floodwater. It’s not worth it!
- Know how to handle a skid. Take your foot off the acceleration and continue to steer in the direction you want to go. Avoid slamming on the brakes. Go for a gentle deceleration until you stabilize.
- Be calm if you hydroplane. If your car loses its grip on the road and feels like it is sliding or “surfing” on top of the surface, gently ease your foot off the gas and avoid steering. Slow down and hold on until your vehicle regains contact with the road.
- Have an emergency bag in the trunk. At a minimum, it should have a simple first aid kit, food and water for three days, a candle or solar blanket to protect from cold weather, a poncho or rain jacket in case of roadside breakdowns, and at least one season-appropriate set of clothes. Preferably, you should also have the means to rent a room for the night if you get stranded.
- Practice ahead of time. Many DMVs have a defensive driving course to help you prepare for many types of driving hazards. You can also review and test your knowledge with our state-specific DMV guides and practice tests.
- What to do if you crash or break down in the rain
Here are the steps to take if you have a mishap on the road:
- Is anyone injured? If anyone is hurt, contact emergency services. If you are trained, administer first aid as needed.
- Is everyone safe? If the vehicles are drivable, get them to a shoulder or as far out of traffic as you can. Turn on blinkers and set up hazard tags or cones if you have them. Do not stay in the vehicle unless it is unsafe to do otherwise.
- Prioritize continued safety. Follow any safety guidelines for the current weather situation, such as staying in a shelter during a lightning storm or waiting on higher ground if you broke down in a flood zone.
- In an accident, call the police. Even if it is minor, make sure you make the call so they can decide if they need to be onsite. They may ask you to file on your own.
- In an accident, take pictures for your insurance company once it is safe to do so. Exchange contact and insurance details.
- Call a tow truck or your emergency road service provider to get you and your vehicle home or to a mechanic (or at least safely off the road if it is not drivable).
There are a lot of challenges when you drive in rain or other hazardous weather conditions. But you can drive safely if you know how to adapt to the conditions.
Want to master more safe driving behaviors? Check out our program for bite-sized lessons and practice tests to ensure you master all the concepts. You’ll even find lessons specific to your state’s laws and guidelines.
Zutobi is a driver’s educational app. For more tips and tricks, visit zutobi.com/us.