How to avoid hydroplaning – and what to do if it happens


tire idriving through hevy rain to illustrate hydroplaning

We all think about tire safety in winter when the roads are snowy or slushy and we adjust our driving accordingly. But what about in the rain? Wet, slick roads with water buildup can be quite hazardous, too. Many drivers are rather cavalier about  adjusting their driving in the rain  and are caught short when something goes wrong, such as hydroplaning.

Hydroplaning – also sometimes called aquaplaning – is losing traction over water while driving, and actually skimming or sliding on the surface of that water. Losing contact with the road is a frightening experience because it results in loss of control of the car. The formula for hydroplaning is speed, tire tread depth and water depth. It’s important to maintain your tires and slow down when it rains. Even a light rain can be hazardous, particularly in the first few minutes as rainfall mixes with oils on the road surface.

Edmunds offers excellent Tips for Driving Safely in the Rain. Also, check out these two videos that talk more about what hydroplaning is and what to do should it occur.

 

Technology helps, but is not a substitute for caution
While driver-assist technologies such as traction control, anti-lock brakes and lane assist technologies can help keep us safer, don’t rely on them. Be cautious and be prepared:

  • Maintain your tires – make sure the tread is good and that they are properly inflated.
  • Slow down when it rains. Many experts suggest reducing speed by about one-third.
  • Avoid standing water.
  • Disable cruise control on wet roads and when raining.
  • Increase the following distance between you and the car ahead.
  • If you do hydroplane, stay calm, ease off the accelerator, and don’t make any sudden moves that may cause a spin out.

Cool tools for drivers


toy car on an interstate map

Are you planning a summer road trip? Does your work take you on the road for frequent state-to-state travel? Do you regularly visit family that live in another part of the country? If so, you might find this tool handy: The AAA Digest of Motor Laws. It’s an online compendium of laws and rules related to driving and owning a motor vehicle in the 50 U.S. states, territories, and the provinces of Canada. AAA began producing this digest in paper form in 1930. In 2011, it eliminated the paper version and brought it online.

The online version allows you to search by location or by law. You can view laws by specific topics, such as accident reporting, distracted driving, window tinting, “move over” laws, headlight use, impaired driving, licensing requirements, seat belt use and much more.

AAA says that it sources its content by compiling statutes and regulations and submissions from local and state jurisdictions. The digest principally covers general interest subjects on private passenger vehicles, but some limited coverage of laws governing commercial vehicles is included, as are some special laws relating to motorcycles, mopeds, and trailers. AAA also offers a note of caution: “The state laws reflected on this website do not necessarily reflect traffic safety best practices.”

If you’ll be living in another state for a period of time or you have an out-of-state student on your auto policy, you might want to talk insurance implications over with your independent insurance agent.

More useful driver tools

AAA has other handy tools for drivers such as Gas Prices, which monitors pricing nationally and by state, and offers a gas cost calculator to help you gauge the cost of a planned trip. They also sponsor the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which offers information, research and tools on a variety of road safety issues. Here are three that we think are very useful:

  • Keys2Drive – tools to help parents and teens throughout the whole learning-to-drive process.
  • Senior Driver Licensing Policies and Practices – “one stop shopping” for information on state driver licensing policies and practices affecting older and medically-at-risk drivers.
  • RoadwiseRx – a tool for understanding how medications may affect you and your driving. Type a name of a prescribed or over-the-counter medication you are taking to learn about any potential driver warnings.

The importance of back-seat safety belt use


back seat safety belt being fastened by a woman passenger

The last time you used a taxi, a ride-hailing service or jumped in the backseat of a friend’s car, did you buckle up? If you did, good for you, but you are in the minority. Four out of 5 adults surveyed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) say they don’t bother to use a seat belt for short trips. Even more troubling, many who responded said that one of the reasons they don’t buckle up is the false idea that the back seat is safer; others say they simply forget. False assumptions and forgetfulness can have tragic results: IIHS says that more than half of the people who die in passenger vehicle crashes in the U.S. each year are unbelted. Safety belts saved 13,941 lives during 2015.

Drivers: Require rear seat belt use

Many front seat riders have gotten in the habit of seat belt use because it is mandated by law in most states, but back seat use is only required by law in 29 states. Plus, many cars have reminders, warnings and alerts for front-seat use, but such reminders usually aren’t available for back seat passengers. If you’re a passenger, try to make this a habit. If you are the driver, it’s up to you to enforce it with your passengers.

If you are uncomfortable requiring your backseat passengers to belt up, be aware of this: Unbelted backseat passengers are a safety hazard to the driver.

“The odds of death for a belted driver seated directly in front of an unrestrained passenger in a serious head-on crash was 2.27 times higher … than if seated in front of a restrained passenger. In contrast, a belted driver seated in front of an unrestrained passenger in a driver-side lateral-impact crash had no increase in mortality over a driver with a restrained rear-seat passenger…”

If you are buckled in as the driver, but the passenger who is riding behind you is not, they can be very dangerous. In an accident, their body can be propelled into you or other passengers, causing severe, preventable injuries. As a driver, you should mandate backseat safety belt use – if the passenger complains, tell them it is not only for their safety, but for your safety and the safety of others in the car, too!

Check your tires: It’s National Tire Safety Week


This week is National Tire Safety Week — and before you embark on all those summer day trips and vacations, it’s the perfect time to check your tires to be sure they are roadworthy and will offer you the best driving security.

According to the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association, tires are safer than ever due to new tire technologies. Government data shows that tire-related crashes decreased by more than 50 percent between 2007 and 2010. Better technologies have led to reduced rolling resistance and better stability and traction in wet road conditions. Plus, “run flat tires” can keep working for up to 50 miles after a puncture.

But to keep tires at peak performance, there are a few best practices, summarized in an excerpt from a tire fact sheet infographic provided by the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association, which offers more information on tire safety.

For more on the care, maintenance and safety of your tires:

How old are your tires? – How to check the age

Tire rating lookup – good to check before you buy new tires.

Tirewise – everything you need to know about buying and maintaining tires.

The life of a tire – We posted this clip a few years back, but think it is well worth recycling – it’s only about 90 seconds, and gives a good overview of what you need to know.

How to test and maintain your tires – Although this prior post focused on prepping tires for winter, there’s a handy infographic that sums up the essentials of what you need to know about taking care of your tires.

Does your new car have a spare tire? Don’t count on it! – Did you know that more than a third of all new car models are being sold without a spare tire? You don’t want to be caught short on the highway. Buyer beware: If you are in the market for a new vehicle, check to see if a spare tire is included. If not, a tire may be available as a purchase option.

Yikes – Massachusetts has some really bad drivers


bad driver

File this under “dubious distinctions”: Boston drivers, you are the worst! Your drivers are 157% more likely to get in a crash than the national average – they get in about one accident every three years. In a list of the 200 largest cities, you come in dead last at #200.

Worcester, you aren’t much better – you come in at #199. And no smirking from you, Springfield – you have the 5th worst driving record!

The honors for the city with the nation’s safest drivers goes to Kansas City, where drivers are 24.8% less likely than the average U.S. driver to get in a crash.

The ranking is from Allstate’s annual “America’s Best Driver Report.” You can read a summary of our miserable record at Boston.com’s story: Bostonians crash more than twice as often as the average driver

The only consolation is that despite the number of bad urban drivers in the state, Massachusetts did not make the list of the 10 states with the worst driving records.

Hey, all you bad drivers – here’s some advice from “Uncle Bob”: 70 Rules of Defensive Driving