Driving in Stormy Wet Weather

Over the years Britain has seen its fair share of wet stormy weather. With experts predicting more extreme weather due to climate change, drivers are likely to experience harsh driving conditions on a more frequent basis.

Heavy rains can quickly reduce your visibility and create slippery and dangerous road conditions. Taking simple precautions and knowing what to do if you get caught in an extreme weather storm will help keep you safe.

If you get caught in a storm follow these guidelines

  • Turn Back. Don't let pride get in the way of your safety. If you feel the weather is too severe to continue your journey safely, turn back or pull into a safe area well-off the road and wait until the weather improves.
  • Slow down. The first few hours of rain are often the most dangerous. When rain falls it mixes with whatever else is on the road surface. For example; spilt fuel, oil, grease, dirt and mud, all of which can combine to make the road surface as slippery as an ice rink.
  • Be Seen. Switch on your headlights regardless of daylight. This will help your vision and let other drivers see you in their mirrors more clearly.
  • Can you see? Use your wipers for maximum visibility and switch on your demisters if necessary. For fastest demisting, use the AC with the temperature set at 'hot'. This will also clear condensation from other windows.
  • Sheet Rain. Sheet rain can overwhelm the wiper blades, allowing an almost continuous sheet of water to flow over the screen. When visibility is so limited that the edges of the road or other vehicles cannot be seen at a safe distance, it is time to pull over and wait for the rain to ease up.
  • Limits of visibility. Never drive beyond the limits of visibility. At night rainy roads become especially treacherous. The glare of oncoming lights, amplified by the rain on your windscreen, can cause temporary loss of visibility while substantially increasing driver fatigue.
  • Spray. Stay well back from lorries and buses, the larger the vehicle, the larger the tyres, the larger the throw back spray.
  • Lengthen your stopping distance. Stay well back from the car in front, you should double if not treble the two second gap rule.
  • Traffic lights, Road junctions. Give yourself ample time to slow down when approaching traffic lights or road junctions.
  • Scanning. Use the defensive driving technique of constantly scanning the road for vehicles, pedestrians, animals, broken down or abandoned vehicles.
  • Double check Mirrors. Take extra care when overtaking or turning left or right. In heavy rain or gloomy conditions, drivers who have not switched on their lights can be especially difficult to see in your side mirrors.
  • Lighten your touch. Wet roads need finesse not strength. Avoid heavy braking, accelerating or abrupt steering.
  • Cruise Control. Never use cruise control in the rain. Many cruise controls, don't take loss of traction into account when computing cruise control, so if you start slipping, the cruise control will start to speed up!
  • Moving Water. If you cannot see how deep running water is across the road, the chances are that it is too deep to drive through; it is much safer to find another route. Some cars can be swept off the road in less than a foot of fast running water.
  • Still Water. It can be difficult to see the depth of some puddles or surface water, so err on the side of caution and go slow. If the water is lapping the bottom of your doors, it is safer to turn around and find another route. Note! If you have a low slung exhaust pipe, in this depth of water it is advisable not to reverse as this could force water up the exhaust pipe and into the engine.
  • Flood depth up to 30cm-12in. Never try to drive through flooded roads especially if you cannot see the other side. However, if you have no alternative, wait until the coast is clear (you do not want to swamp or to be swamped by another vehicle) keep your engine rev's high and move forward cautiously in first gear until you are clear. Reversing is not an option as this will force water up the exhaust pipe and into the engine. If stranded call 999.
  • Flood depth above 45cm-18in. It is highly unlikely that a salon car can safely make it through water of this depth. Turn around and find another route. If you unexpectedly find yourself in this depth of water call 999.
  • Stranded. If you find yourself stranded in rising water, abandon your vehicle and head for dry land, call 999.
  • Night-time. In the dark it is difficult to tell the difference between wet road surfaces and floodwater. As you drive, keep an eye on the side of the road at the height of fences, hedges and buildings. If they appear to be getting progressively lower, slow down at once as the road ahead is probably flooded.
  • Hitting Floodwater. If you hit floodwater at speed, firstly you will not know what hit you and secondly you will come to an uncontrolled violent stop. Be on your guard; watch out for places where floodwater collects. For example, low-lying roads that run alongside streams or rivers, dips in the road especially under railway bridges.
  • Aquaplaning. Aquaplaning happens when the water in front of your tyres builds up faster than your car's weight can push it out of the way. Avoid aquaplaning by slowing down when you see water lying on the surface of the road. (See Aquaplaning - Tips and Advice Article No64)
  • Brakes. Always test your brakes after going through water. To dry your brakes, press the brake pedal lightly while keeping the car moving about 10mph for about 100 metres.

Driving in Stormy Wet Weather

Tips and Advice Article No 61 RoadDriver 2010


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