“It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya? It pours, man, it pours!-Albert Hammond
Roads are layered with pollution from heavy traffic; oil, lubricants, anti-freeze and brake fluid. These chemicals combine in an intensely viscous (slippery) solution in the first moments of a rain storm. This condition often leads to super hydroplaning, where vehicles lose control, being separated from the road surface by an ultra-thin layer of fluid.
Wild-fires have also ravaged vegetation along our highways, increasing the danger of mudslides and flash-flooding. As little as 18 inches of running water can float a vehicle off the road. Half of all flood fatalities occur in automobiles.
Following are suggestions to help you safely navigate through bad weather:
- Ensure your tires are up to the task. Adequate treads and proper inflation are major weapons in your battle against hydroplaning.
- Maintain your wiper blades. Wipe them occasionally with wiper fluid and change them as recommended by their manufacturer. Less expensive blades should be changed each year—higher quality OEM blades cost more money, but last longer.
- Make sure all your lights are clean and fully operational, including emergency flashers. California law requires illuminated headlights while wipers are active. Your lights increase your visibility, as well as help other drivers see you.
- Clean your windshield and windows. Avoid this simple formula: dirt+water=mud. Now, smear it around with your wipers… you get the idea. If your vehicle isn’t equipped with fancy water-repellant glass (no, really!), apply the chemicals yourself—your auto-parts store sells several brands. Additionally, wiping shaving cream on the inside of your windows decreases fogging.
- Defog your windows before driving. Fog is the result of unequal humidity inside and outside of your car. Your car’s HVAC system usually introduces outside air when defog is selected. You can also choose the air condition feature with a warm setting; as well as open your windows.
- Plan your trip route to optimize safety. Getting lost under poor-visibility is possible, even on normally familiar routes.
- Allow for greater travel time. Rushing on rain-soaked streets is no way to make your important appointment.
On the Road
- Turn on your lights in rain. Turn on your fog lights (if you have them) in fog. Fog lights are placed low, where fog is lightest. High-beam headlights reflect light and blind you and other drivers.
- Reduce your speed and increase your distance behind cars ahead of you. Breaking distance increases dramatically on wet roads.
- Brake gradually and lightly. Plan ahead and be deliberate. Brake before turning your wheels, to help them grip while changing direction.
- Don’t panic if/when hydroplaning—take your foot off the gas pedal and slowly apply the brakes. Avoid making any sudden turns.
- Avoid driving through puddles and running water. Puddles can hide serious potholes which could cause wheel damage or loss of control. If unavoidable, tap your brakes lightly to clear water from your brakes after negotiating the puddle.
- Surface streets are usually crowned (raised) in the center to allow drainage. Drive near the middle of the street to avoid standing water.
- Freeway fast lanes often have puddles which can drag you into the center divider. You can also experience temporary blindness by splashes from the oncoming traffic over the fence. Avoid that extreme left lane if possible.
- Be careful when driving near large vehicles. Eighteen-wheelers create their own micro-climate, spewing strong winds and precipitation.
- Drive defensively, especially in intersections, where other drivers may not see you—or may not be in control of their vehicles.
- Watch for pedestrians who may be camouflaged by dark rain wear and umbrellas.
- Follow basic safety rules. If you cannot stop your vehicle within your limit of visibility, slow down or pull off the road to wait it out. It never pours in California… for long, anyway.