7 Safe Driving Tips for Rainy Days

The approach of spring and rainy weather go hand in hand. However, those “April Showers” can bring much more than just May flowers—they can lead to dangerous collisions on slippery roads.

A study of automobile crashes between 2005 and 2014 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicated that 22% of all vehicle crashes were “weather-related,” which was defined as crashes that occur in the presence of adverse weather and/or slick pavement conditions.[1]  On average, almost 6,000 people are killed and 445,000 more are injured in weather-related collisions each year in the U.S.[2]

Of these weather-related crashes between 2005 and 2014, 73% were caused by wet pavement and 46% were attributed to rain reducing visibility.[3]  An incredibly-high 77% of weather-related fatalities occurred due to wet pavement.[4]  In 39 of the 50 states, including Virginia (and Alaska), more motorists die in crashes involving rain and wet roads than in crashes involving snow and ice.[5]

Here are seven tips you can implement to help improve your safety when driving in wet or rainy conditions:

  1. Check the tread on your tires.  Bald tires are dangerous in wet conditions.  Tires are manufactured with grooves to channel water out from under the tread to maintain traction with the road surface in wet conditions.  When tires are bald, the grooves are not as deep and therefore less effective at removing water, which can mean a loss of traction.[6]
  2. Turn on your headlights.  It is the law in many states, including Virginia, to use your headlights when your windshield wipers are in use.[7]  This increases your visibility to others, even in daylight hours.
  3. Slow down.  Standing water can lead to hydroplaning.  The faster you drive, the harder it is for the grooves in your tires to channel out the water, which can lead to a loss of traction and hydroplaning.[8]  It is possible to hydroplane at speeds as low as 35 mph.[9]
  4. Leave more space between you and the car in front of you.  Wet roads can double stopping distance.[10]
  5. Be particularly cautious when it first begins to rain.  That is when rainwater can mix with oils, grease, and tire residue that accumulated on the road during dry conditions to create a slick surface.
  6. Do not use cruise control.  Cruise control is great in dry conditions because it keeps your car at a constant speed.  In wet weather, cruise control cannot tell if you have lost traction with the road, and can continue attempting to accelerate as your car slides off the road or even into oncoming traffic.[11] In addition, the way most people disengage the cruise control is to tap the brake pedal.  Doing so while your car is hydroplaning can make a bad situation even worse.[12]
  7. Never attempt to drive through floodwaters.  12 inches of rushing water can carry away a small car and 2 feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles.[13]

[6] https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/12/how-safe-are-worn-tires/index.htm.  Tires with groves that are equal to or less than 2/32 of an inch deep are bald; however, many experts suggest replacing tires with grooves that are less than 4/32 of an inch.

[7] https://www.yourmechanic.com/article/headlight-use-laws-for-all-50-states.  In Virginia, the law is your headlights must be on any time your windshield wipers are in use at a setting any faster than intermittent.  Va. Code § 46.2-1030.