When it comes to rainy commutes, soggy moods rule the day. Road vision gets hampered, traffic backs up, and accidents accumulate. Not to mention those parking lot puddles that are perfectly placed to inspire new and imaginative curse words. Worse than arriving at the office with matted hair and wet socks, however, is not arriving at all, due to a very common, potentially dangerous, and surprisingly avoidable rain-induced occurrence known as hydroplaning – or aquaplaning to our friends from across the pond.
Hydroplaning occurs when a sheet of water wedges itself between the road and your tire, preventing the tire’s tread from properly gripping the road. You may have heard about a tire’s “footprint,” which refers to the part of the tread that physically touches the pavement and allows you and your car to turn freely and maintain unimpeded forward momentum. The bigger your tire’s footprint, or the more contact your tread has with the road, the more control you have. When you hydroplane, your car is basically losing its footing, which can lead to a loss of steering control, spins, and, at the very least, jangled nerves.
While road conditions and tire health both increase the risk of hydroplaning, the main perpetrators are speed and water depth. Crash Forensics says that you’re at risk when moving above speeds above 45 MPH (example: the freeway) and when water depth on the road is at least 1/10th of an inch. Unfortunately, we can’t stop our cars and break out the rulers, so the safe bet would be to treat all wet roads as potential hydroplaning hazard zones. And while it is possible to identify the factors above, the truth is that hydroplaning often strikes unexpectedly, creating a scary and hectic few moments for everyone involved – especially those who are unprepared or unaware of the indicating factors. Taking a few precautionary steps can help you avoid ending up as one of the reasons the traffic commute is in the red.
Sometimes, even when you do take every possible precaution, Mother Nature doesn’t care and you can still end up in hydroplaning. If your vehicle does start to hydroplane, follow these steps – you still may be able to right yourself with the road and make it to work with nothing more than an increased heartbeat.
Because hydroplaning is so common and so potentially dangerous, tire manufacturers are always coming up with new designs and experimenting with various materials to help prevent it. This emphasis on hydroplane prevention means that there are many excellent tires designed to expertly expel water from their tread and keep you moving in a straight line. Here are a few good choices: