We all understand that driving is statistically one of the most dangerous things we will do in our lives. Tire technology has come a long way, but it is not enough. Most people don’t take the simple steps to overcome some of the most dangerous aspects of driving, like losing traction. Of all the traction loss situations, one of the most dangerous is hydroplaning becuase it happens so often. So, let’s talk about what hydroplaning is and what you should do if you hydroplane.
What is hydroplaning?
First, we need to understand exactly how our tires work. Car and Driver explains that tire tread works to shuttle water away from where the tires actually touch the road. Continental estimates that an average tire can move up to eight gallons per second when traveling at 50 mph. Once the treads can’t keep up with the amount of water it needs to move, then the tire starts to ride on top of the water instead of the road; this is called hydroplaning.
How to prevent hydroplaning
Now that we understand what hydroplaning is, we should learn how to avoid it. Obviously, driving in public can only be so controlled, and things can happen no matter how well prepared you are, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to take every reasonable precaution.
A good first step to avoid hydroplaning is maintaining proper tire pressure. This is one of the most important steps to safe driving and car maintenance in general. Proper tire pressure improves handling, gas mileage and gives maximum grip surface to your tires. Underinflated tires can be more prone to hydroplaning.
A strong second step to avoid hydroplaning is to keep your foot out of the gas pedal. Higher speeds can greatly increase your chances of hydroplaning. Think about it like water skis. If you are being towed by the boat at very low speeds, it can be nearly impossible to get on top of the water. However, the faster you get pulled, the easier it is to get up and stay up. So, slow down when it’s raining; it matters.
Lastly, it would be best to keep an eye on the road’s condition and contours. Roads are meant to be crowned and smooth so that water can’t pool. However, that is clearly not the case with most roads. If you see dips and low spots where water can easily pool, be weary in wet conditions as these will be places where your car is more likely to hydroplane.
What should you do if you Hydroplane?
No matter how many precautions you take, your car can still hydroplane. Preparing for the eventuality of hydroplaning is smart defensive driving. So, once you find yourself sliding with little traction, what do you do? As Car and Driver notes, many vehicles have computers that may pick up on the lack of traction. These computers might try to cut power or apply brakes to specific wheels to mitigate the slide. But, even the smartest computers might not be able to help if you are in a severe enough slide.
Once you have fully lost control, there isn’t much to do at that moment. The most important thing you can do is keep from panicking and prepare for when you get traction again. At the first sign of hydroplaning, immediately let off the throttle without hitting the brakes. Then smoothly adjust your steering to attempt to point your car in the safest direction.
The key is smooth movements. Any jerking or abrupt steering or braking can upset the car’s balance, making the situation far more dangerous. You can gentle apply brakes to slow the skid down but do so as slowly and gently as possible. The goal should always be to keep the car as straight and balanced as possible. If steering doesn’t work, don’t keep adding steering input; keep the wheels straight to prepare for when they gain traction again.
Not planning is a plan to fail
I understand that this all seems far easier said than done. Like anything else, practice makes perfect. Driving is one of the most dangerous things most of us will do in our lives. It is wise to take a defensive driving or even a race training course, no matter how long you have been driving, because they often teach slide recovery.
Although there is a lot to keep in mind during this stressful event, if you have practiced staying calm and only adding small smooth inputs in a time of crisis, you will do so by instinct when the time comes.