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It’s not just water

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by Eric Tipan

The Philippines may only have two seasons, but unfortunately that includes the deadliest of them all when it comes to driving: the rainy season.

Yes, that’s right. Out of all the other seasons, like winter that brings snow and ice, research shows that plain, old precipitation is the most likely to get you in an accident. So quit digging into your old bag of tricks and maneuvers when driving on wet roads and allow us to tell you how to drive properly, and more importantly, safely, as soon as it starts to drizzle.

WATER ISN’T YOUR FRIEND

It may not be noticeable from behind the wheel, but when tires come in contact with water on a street, road traction immediately decreases. Water may be dispersed by the tire’s tread, assuming it still has some, but it’s these same grooves that help build-up and accumulate ‘hydrodynamic pressure’.

The faster you go and the more water there is that needs to be dispelled will determine the amount of pressure placed on your tires; the higher the pressure, the less tire traction efficiency you will have. Once the pressure is too much, the ability of the tires to disperse water will be severely compromised resulting in ‘hydroplaning’ or ‘aquaplaning’.Driving_3

This occurs when, instead of being dispersed, water on the road forms a layer that separates the tires from the road surface. During aquaplaning, your vehicle effectively becomes a sled, devoid of any ability to take steering or braking input from the driver. Another factor that needs to be considered is the timing and the type of precipitation.

After a series of continuous searing hot days —  which is common in the Philippines — there will be oil build-up and an accumulation of pavement grime on the road. Heavy rain may wash all that away, but a slight drizzle combined with oil and grime may actually lubricate the road, hence the saying ‘slippery when wet’.

DRIVER DO’S AND DONT’S

Do check the condition of your vehicle and tires on a regular basis. Tread depth should not be less than 1.6mm, otherwise, time to shop for tires.

Do slow down. Wet roads provide a very low coefficient of friction, which means there’s a greater chance of skidding. Driving slow allows you to maintain a safe gap from the vehicle ahead because the conditions require a longer braking and stopping distance. Also, you won’t be able to see that far ahead because rain decreases visibility by as much as 74 percent.Driving_2

Don’t keep on driving the same way once it starts raining. Shift your style and be more mindful because, while you haven’t, others may have actually slowed down. Avoid herky-jerky moves like sudden acceleration and braking, and acute steering maneuvers that may make you lose control of the vehicle.

Don’t turn on your hazard lights. People with assisted vision may not be able to tell if you’re completely stopped or in motion and could ram into you. Plus, motorists behind you won’t be able to tell if you’re actually shifting lanes until it’s too late. Do what you do when it’s dark and you’re driving, turn on the headlamps.

Don’t use cruise control. Staying in a controlled pace may seem safe but your vehicle doesn’t recognize puddles. If you hydroplane, the vehicle may actually go faster.

Don’t drive through a flooded street. Unless it’s a life-or-death situation, there’s no other way around, and losing the vehicle is the easier pill to swallow, then go. Look for the shallowest section by watching other cars go by. Go in one-at-a-time as two or more cars may create waves that increase the water level. Find the right pace and don’t slow down as it may allow water into the engine or be sucked up by the exhaust. Check brakes after.

Don’t fight the skid. That’s not to say ‘enjoy the ride’ but more ‘don’t panic’. Get off the throttle and wait for the tires and gravity to slice through the water and regain traction. Stay off the brake and keep the steering position where it’s at as any change may upset the balance of the vehicle even more.

BE WISE WHEN WET

As we’ve tackled above, there are so many factors that make rain one of the most dangerous driving conditions known to man. It’s not rocket science but a driver does need his wits about him more in the rain than in dry conditions.

Heck, even Formula 1 drivers slow down by 10-15 seconds on a wet track — one, for better control and two, due to limited visibility.

A radio DJ once said about rain, “…it’s just water!” He may be technically correct but it’s really not as simple as that.

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