Hydroplaning, or aquaplaning, is the most dangerous road hazard which can easily cause accidents. While freak accidents and car failure are frightening, the loss of traction in wet conditions can be just as frightening, as it happens quickly and occurs without warning.
But what can you do to prevent hydroplaning? Let’s take a look at what causes hydroplaning first and go from there.
What causes hydroplaning?
Hydroplaning can occur in wet conditions. In wet weather situations, water and slush often accumulate on the road after heavy rain, blocking the tire’s surface contact. The standing water on the road will create a layer between the tire and the driving surface. In such instances, the water and slush will cause the tire to lose contact with the road, significantly ruining the wet traction.
How does weather affect the tire’s performance and what other factors are there that may diminish the tire’s adequate traction and performance?
A vehicle or car can only hydroplane in wet weather conditions. It happens when water and slush are trapped on the road surface, creating a layer which will block the tire’s actual connection with the road. This usually happens after heavy rain or storms, when the water depth is more significantly on the road surface. In such cases, it is important to adapt a careful style of driving.
The tread design of the tires you have mounted on your car are also an important factor. The tire tread features grooves which are designed to combat aquaplaning. Their design, placement and depth work together to disperse water and slush from the footprint. The grooves channel water through the tread in order to regain traction when driving on wet roads. Worn out tires are even more dangerous as the inadequate grooves will not be able to fulfill their purpose. However, when the tire tread is unable to do its task, hydroplaning occurs.
Speed is also crucial to take into account. In wet conditions, the tires need time to eliminate the water layer. If the vehicle’s driving speed is too fast, the grooves will not be able to adequately do their task. Taking up a slow driving style in severe wet weather will minimize the possibility of speed related hydroplaning, allowing the driver to make sure that they have control over the car at all times.
How does Hydroplaning Happen?
Hydroplaning can occur in wet situations. If the previous mentioned factors are present during the drive, the tire will lose traction and road grip, causing the car to slide or skid. This results in the driver losing control over the vehicle’s steering.
Recognizing when your car is hydroplaning is not that hard. Usually a splash of water occurs, indicating the vehicle drove over a puddle at a significant speed. The splash, however, is not a given, as water accumulation on the road surface can extract oil from the asphalt, which will cause the water to become more slippery (sort of how ice ruins the traction).
The biggest indicator of hydroplaning is the loss of steering. When the vehicle hydroplanes, it basically has a mind of its own. This gives the sensation of there being no control over the vehicle as the steering responsiveness is minimized. While the wheels are still turning when you move the steering wheel, since the front tires no longer offer the needed traction, the driver’s steering attempts are crucially decreased. When hydroplaning, the car's braking and steering responsiveness is reduced, which can lead to accidents.
What to do when Hydroplaning Occurs?
As mentioned above, hydroplaning causes the driver a loss of control over the vehicle when the tires have no solid road contact. However, there are things the driver can do to regain the steering over the vehicle. How you control your vehicle during hydroplaning, depends on which tires have the loss of contact.
If the front tires are the ones that hydroplane, the car will understeer. This will prevent the vehicle from turning, as the steering will not affect it. If the rear tires are hydroplaning, especially with front-wheel drive cars, the car will oversteer. As these tires give the car its stability. When all four tires are hydroplaning, there is a complete loss of control, causing the vehicle to slide on the watery surface.
However, there are still a few things the driver can do to regain traction. You must not panic or start steering the car erratically, as that will just make the situation worse. You need to keep the vehicle balanced with careful use of the steering wheel. Do not oversteer. The most important goal is to safely pass the water and to regain contact with the driving surface. This can be done, with calculated steering instructions and minimal braking. Exaggerated movements will cause more harm.
Tips on How to Maintain the Contact with the Road Surface
There are also things you, as the driver, can do to avoid hydroplaning.
Firstly, slow down when driving on wet surfaces. As mentioned before, speed is a crucial factor which causes the tires’ loss of traction. In rainy conditions, we would recommend a defensive driving style.
Secondly, if possible, avoid roads during your commute which tend to accumulate water on their surface. For example, roads with potholes or ones which do not drain rainwater away.
Frequently check the quality of your tires. The tread depth, the rubber materials, the tread condition, the tire pressure and the overall tread pattern all work together to provide the needed grip throughout the tire’s performance. The condition of the tires can make or break the driving safety. Be sure to change worn out tires on time.
Lastly, turn offyour cruise control in wet weather conditions. While cruise control is a useful feature, it will not help you out on wet pavement. If your vehicle begins to hydroplane, the cruise control will hinder your attempts to regain control over the car.