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Top tips for driving in bad weather
The perfect spot on a rainy day for most of us would be on the couch, in front of the box, with a tasty snack or two at hand. However, most of us do need to drive regularly, and most of us at some stage will also get caught in a downpour. Driving in wet weather can be dangerous though, so here are a few tips to alleviate stress, road rage and most of all, accidents.
Prep your car
First up, you need to make sure your car’s equipped to handle dodgy weather. Your tyres need to have good tread and be inflated properly, all your lights need to be in working order, your windscreen should be clean and your windscreen wipers in good nick and functioning correctly.
Check the conditions
Before setting out, you should check local weather forecasts and road conditions and have a bit of a plan as to the best way to access your destination in order to avoid hold-ups. However sometimes hitting a rough patch can be unavoidable, particularly because in Australia, weather can (and does) change dramatically.
Roads can become even more dangerous after a long, dry spell because a build-up of engine oil and grease will make surfaces slick once rainfall occurs, so you’ll need to keep your smarts about you.
Take your time
If bad weather hits when you’re driving, it’s going to affect other drivers on the road as well (you’re all going to be in the same car-shaped boat), so slow down, indicate early and avoid braking or accelerating suddenly or turning quickly (skid alert!).
Turn on your back and front demisters if things get a little foggy (particularly in cold weather), and switch your lights to low beam (even in the day time). This will not only help you see the road more easily (fairly important), it will also help other drivers see you as well. And if driving at night, take care when switching to high beam as lights can often reflect back on the water on your windscreen and reduce your field of vision.
If you drive through a puddle, tap lightly on your brake pedal to dry off some of the water on your rotors, and avoid large puddles of water if you can, because if they splash up into your engine compartment they could cause damage to your internal electrical systems.
Also try to avoid unsealed roads in the wet – they’re more likely to be slick with sticky mud and hide nasty potholes that could be filled with water.
Keep a keen eye out for pedestrians and cyclists – they’re probably impatient about avoiding the rain and may make rash decisions, especially when crossing roads. Raindrops also tend to deaden sound and combined with lower visibility all round, the usual cues you use for measuring distances can become obscured.
Try to follow the tracks of the car in front of you, as it can reduce the amount of water between the road and your tyres, thus reducing skidding. Just remember to keep a bit of distance – firstly so you can clearly see the car in front’s brake lights and also to allow you the extra time you’ll need to slow down.
If you’re hit with a really heavy downpour and your visibility’s so bad you can’t see other cars or the edge of the road safely, pull over and wait for the rain to ease off. A rest area is the safest place to stop, but if you can’t get to one, stop over as far as possible on the side of the road, keep your headlights on and turn on your hazards.
Double your distance
In good weather, you should allow at least two seconds between you and the car in front (and more than doubling that time if you’re towing a caravan or trailer!). In wet conditions, you should double it to allow you enough time to stop safely. To gauge the timing, pick a mark on the road, and when the back of the car in front passes that mark, count up to four slowly (you know the old ‘one-dog-cat, two-dog-cat’ rule don’t you?). If the front of your car reaches that mark before you’ve finished counting, you’re too close.
It’s also worth giving trucks and buses extra distance, because their mega-tyres can splash enough water to totally block your vision.
If things get extreme
Aquaplaning occurs when there’s a build-up of water between the road’s surface and your tyres, causing them to lose contact with the surface of the road completely and if it happens, you could lose control of your car. To manage it, try not to panic, don’t brake or turn suddenly, ease off the accelerator and if you have to brake, do so gently with light pumping actions.
If your car’s tyres slip but you’ve still got some traction, you could be skidding instead and yes, it’s difficult to control. However, easing your foot off the accelerator and steering the car in the direction you want the front of your car to go should help. Just be ready to turn the steering wheel repeatedly until the front of your car’s travelling in a straight line. Then accelerate, brake and corner as smoothly as you can.
If it’s flooded, forget it
You’ve probably heard the catch phrase and seen the ads, but it’s true. Driving through flooded roads is dangerous. Roads can flood in minutes and just one metre of water can wash a car away. Government transport departments take special care to avoid road-flooding injuries by closing roads or by placing signage and/or traffic controls around roads that are flooded. Follow ‘em.
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