When it rains, driving becomes more than just steering and braking. The rain changes everything — from the road surface to how we see the road ahead. Wet pavement reduces the grip of your tires, making it harder to control your vehicle. In heavy rain, the reduced visibility forces drivers to slow down. This can reduce driving speeds by up to 25% on main roads and 17% on freeways. These conditions contribute to thousands of injuries and deaths on the roads every year.

Photo of Bus Accident Scene

When Is the Road Most Slippery?

You might think that it would be the most dangerous to be on the road during a heavy rainstorm. That’s not the case, however. According to automotive experts, the most perilous time is right after the rain begins.

Slippery Road Surface

The first few minutes of rain are known to be the riskiest for drivers. Roads tend to accumulate oil, grease, and dust when they remain dry for long periods. These substances are mostly from vehicle emissions, tire and brake wear, and natural dust in the environment. When it hasn’t rained for a while, this build-up becomes more concentrated on the surface of the road.

Loss of Friction

When the rain first starts, it mixes with these substances and creates a greasy, slippery film on the road. This mixture almost acts like a thin layer of lubricant and drastically reduces the friction between the tires and the road. Lack of traction means tires have less grip. It can easily result in skidding, especially when you apply brakes or make sharp turns.

Hydroplaning Risks

This is also when hydroplaning — where your tires lose contact with the road and ride on a film of water — can occur even with a slight layer of water (no more than a tenth of an inch) because the combination of water, oil, and dirt is more slippery than water alone.

Time Required to Adapt

Most drivers take their time to adjust their driving to the freshly wet conditions. At the onset of rain, many of them might not yet have reduced their speed or increased their following distance, which increases the risk of accidents right after the rain begins.

Puddle Formation

As the rain keeps falling, the roads tend to become relatively safer to drive on because the water gradually removes the oil from the road’s surface. However, until the rainwater effectively thins out the grease, there is still a risk of puddles forming. These puddles, combined with the harder-to-see-through rain, can make driving more difficult.

Tips For Driving Safely in the Rain

Local police departments and highway patrol agencies recommend using extreme caution for drivers when it starts raining, especially after a long dry spell. The longer the dry period, the more oil and rubber build-up there is on the road. Here is what you should do:

  • Slow down when it starts to rain; it will help increase your reaction time and reduce the risk of sliding.
  • Keep a greater distance than usual between your car and the one in front of you. This gives you more time to react and stop safely if needed.
  • Turn on your headlights, even in light rain so you can see the road better. It will also make you more visible to other drivers.
  • If you feel like your tires are beginning to lose contact with the road and ride on a layer of water — i.e., hydroplaning — ease off the accelerator and steer straight until you regain control.
  • Avoid using high beams in pouring rain as they can reflect off the raindrops and impair your vision. Stick to low beams and fog lights if your vehicle has them.
  • Watch for a rainbow sheen on the wet road as it indicates oil and fluid spills, which are extremely slippery. Slow down and steer through these patches with caution.
  • If your car starts to skid, don’t panic. Gently steer in the direction you want to go and avoid slamming on the brakes, as this can worsen the skid.
  • If your windows start to fog, use your car’s air conditioning to clear them quickly. This keeps your visibility clear.
  • Keep a safe distance from larger vehicles like trucks and buses as they create more spray, which minimizes visibility.
  • Choose routes with better drainage to avoid deep water. Roads with higher elevations are usually safer in heavy rains.
  • Water tends to pool in the outer lanes. If possible, drive in the middle lanes where water accumulation is often less.
  • Watch out for pedestrians and cyclists, they are more vulnerable in the rain. Be extra vigilant and give them more space than you would in dry conditions.
  • Make sure your tires are in good condition and have the proper amount of tread depth. Worn-out tires significantly increase the risk of slipping on wet roads.
  • Use windshield wipers and defrosters to prevent the windows from fogging up.
  • Drive around large puddles if you can do so safely. Driving through deep water can cause hydroplaning or even flood your engine.

Totalled car at night getting towed

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