You’re driving down the interstate while listening to the morning radio show and contemplating everything you have to do when you get to work. The presentation that is due the following week is on your mind, as is the fact that you have yet to begin working on it. Also, your boss is breathing down your neck. In addition to everything else, rain is falling. It’s not much, but it’s enough to prevent you from escaping to the park for lunch every day. While your thoughts go elsewhere, you drive across a deep pool of water. One moment you are singing along with the radio, and the next you are careening into the next lane. Thankfully, traffic is not excessively heavy. You did not strike anyone, but the experience jolts you and temporarily frees your thoughts of other concerns. You make your way to the office at a more moderate speed, promising to take driving in the rain more seriously in the future.
You have just hydroplaned, which is a potentially perilous experience. When a sheet of water forms between a vehicle’s tire and the road, hydroplaning happens. Due to tire deterioration or inadequate drainage on the road, the tire cannot expel water quickly enough. The tires lose contact with the road, the vehicle loses traction, and the driver loses steering control. Some individuals compare it to sliding on ice. Because the tires are not in contact with the road, neither braking nor steering is effective. Hydroplaning is a phenomenon that can occur with any type of vehicle. For hydroplaning to occur, the water must be deeper than a tenth of an inch (0.3 millimeters), and the vehicle’s speed must be at least 50 miles per hour (22.35 meters per second).
Hydroplaning is a common cause of collisions, and tire manufacturers are always developing new tread designs to channel water away and create a route for the tire. Engineers are developing novel materials and road designs to reduce the likelihood of hydroplaning.
How Hydroplaning Occurs
To comprehend how hydroplaning operates, one must be familiar with traction. Traction is the friction that develops between a vehicle’s tires and the road surface. Rolling traction is the interaction between the tire and the surface that generates forward movement. When this surface is slick with water, the tire loses traction. Hydroplaning occurs when a vehicle’s tires drive across a wet surface so quickly that they are unable to displace sufficient water and make contact with the surface. Water raises the tire above the surface, causing the car to hydroplane.
Although speed, road conditions, and tire wear all play a role, water depth is the primary cause of hydroplaning. Hydroplaning is conceivable if water accumulates to a depth of at least one-tenth of an inch (0.3 millimeters) for at least 30 feet (9.14 meters) while a vehicle drives through the water at 50 miles per hour or more [source: Crash Forensics]. In addition, tire size and tread patterns are essential. Hydroplaning is more likely to occur if the tires on your car are thin. Wet circumstances increase the hazard posed by worn tires. Certain tire tread patterns are more effective than others at channeling water away. All-wheel drive vehicles are more likely to hydroplane than two-wheel drive vehicles due to the fact that their electronic differentials may shift power from the front to the back tires, causing hydroplaning. Heavy automobiles are less susceptible to hydroplaning.
Regardless of the tires on your vehicle or the type of vehicle you drive, there are a few ways to prevent hydroplaning. First, decelerate. Increased speed increases the probability of hydroplaning. Even if you hydroplane, moving more slowly will reduce your risk. Moreover, observe the drivers ahead of you. Their erratic steering could indicate that you are approaching a hazardous area. If the vehicles in front of you are suddenly spewing more water, they may have driven through a puddle that could cause you to hydroplane.
Now, let’s discuss what you should do if (and when) you experience hydroplaning.
What to Do When Hydroplaning
Even if every precaution fails and you end up hydroplaning, maintain your composure. The problem is doable if you keep your cool and do not panic. First, avoid slamming on the brakes and oversteering. Grip the steering wheel firmly and maintain a straight forward direction. Just enough steering is required to maintain forward motion. Remove your foot from the accelerator and allow the vehicle to decelerate on its own.
Find out if your vehicle has conventional or anti-lock brakes before you find yourself sliding across the highway on a water cushion. Consult the owner’s manual or consult a mechanic. If you begin hydroplaning and need to apply the brakes to avoid a collision, pump the conventional brakes fast and lightly. Brake normally with anti-lock brakes, but do not brake excessively. The vehicle’s computer will simulate your pumping motion. If the tires of your vehicle have any contact with the road, you should begin to slow down and restore control.
Internet is replete with ominous cautions against using cruise control during a downpour. These stories describe collisions in which the cruise control detected hydroplaning and actually accelerated the vehicle. Despite the lack of proof, the majority of experts advise against using cruise control in wet weather. If you hydroplane, you must apply the brakes to deactivate the device, which you should only do if absolutely necessary.
Hydroplaning has been a problem for highway engineers since the 1960s, when greater speeds and larger interstate highways contributed to an increase in accidents. The prevention of hydroplaning through highway design is dictated by the selection of materials and the building standards, notably something known as cross slope — the direction perpendicular to the main slope. If constructed properly, water will simply drain from the roadway. Since water drains better on a steeper gradient, and vehicles traveling uphill are less prone to hydroplane, grade also plays a significant role in minimizing hydroplaning.
In addition to developing improved construction methods, road builders are also employing innovative anti-hydroplaning materials. Grooved or tined roads can lessen the likelihood of hydroplaning, however only concrete roads can be grooved or tined. Most roadways are constructed with cheaper, non-groovable hot mix asphalt. Also, it is more susceptible to rutting, which contributes to hydroplaning.