How to drive safely in heavy rain and wind

Consumer Reports News: October 26, 2012 04:08 PM

During a serious storm, it is best to wait it out indoors. But if you absolutely must venture out in a car, these tips may help you to arrive safely.

Heavy rain
Downpours are always hazardous because your wheels lose traction on wet roads. But they're especially dangerous after a long, dry period, because an oily residue on the roads can make them slick.

What to do

  • Slow down to avoid hydroplaning, which can happen when the tires lose contact with the road as they skim across the surface of the water. That can lead to a loss of traction and prevent the vehicle from responding to steering, braking, or accelerating. The water doesn't have to be deep; even a thin film can cause problems. To minimize hydroplaning, slow down and don't steer or brake suddenly. And make sure your tires are in good shape and are properly inflated.

  • Avoid puddles if you can. If you can't,slow down but don't brake suddenly or jerk the wheel. And never drive through moving or standing water if you don't know how deep it is. You could do serious damage to the car or even be washed away.

  • Don't use cruise control during downpours. To maintain a steady speed, the system can cause the car to accelerate suddenly on slick pavement and you could lose control.

Heavy wind
Windy conditions can really push around tall vehicles like SUVs and vans. But a light, small car can be buffeted easily, too, and cause you to swerve.

What to do

  • Keep both hands tightly on the wheel when it's gusty. Quick spurts of wind might require more steering corrections.

  • Keep an eye on your speed if you're driving into a headwind. You might have to give the car some extra gas to keep the pace.

  • If the wind is blowing strongly from one side, steer into it slightly to stay on course. Be alert for a break in the wind, because you might have to quickly straighten the wheel, and steer into it again with the next gust.

  • Be especially alert when entering and leaving a tunnel or other protected area or when passing or being passed by a large truck.

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Jeff Bartlett

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