Hydroplaning happens when water builds up under the tire and forces it away from the road, according to the American Safety Council. This doesn't usually happen, because tires are made to direct water through and away from the underside of the tire; deep grooves (tread) accomplish this in a fraction of a second without you noticing. But when the tread is insufficient, or when water builds up faster than the tire can push it out of the way, hydroplaning can occur.
Hydroplaning is dangerous because it means losing control of your car and being unable to stop safely. Here's how to prevent it from happening -- and what to do if it does.
One of the most important things to know about hydroplaning is when it is most likely to happen. The first several minutes of a light rain can be the riskiest, according to the American Safety Council. That's because, at this point in a rainstorm, the water is mixing with oil residue in road, causing a particularly slippery surface. For vehicles going faster than 35 mph, this environment can turn scary pretty quick.
To reduce the risk of hydroplaning when driving in the rain, the American Safety Council recommends:
- Keeping tires properly inflated.
- Rotating tires to make sure the tread wears away evenly, and replace old tires when necessary.
- Driving carefully and slow down for bad weather.
- Leaving more space between your car and the car ahead when it's raining, in case you need to brake suddenly.
- Driving in a lower gear.
- Braking lightly and well in advance of the stopping point, rather than slamming on the brakes suddenly.
- Avoiding sharp turns, and taking care when approaching bridges.
- Steering clear of standing water and puddles on the road.
- Driving in lanes that aren't inundated with water.
- Turning off cruise control. The cruise control feature can be dangerous in bad weather, because it sets acceleration automatically.
- Stay calm. It's important not to panic or to slam on the brakes, which could cause your car to skid.
- Look for an empty space in the road ahead, where you have more room to maneuver in case you lose control, and steer gently in that direction.
- Ease off the accelerator, and let your wheels gradually find the road again.