AUTO TECH AND ROAD SAFETY

Driving in a Downpour

Driving in a Downpour image

Text: Lester Dizon / Photos: Brent Co | posted July 06, 2003 10:23

Helpful tips for driving in heavy rains

Lately, the rains have been pouring sporadically in the metropolis. One minute it's cloudy and humid. Then suddenly, it's dark and gloomy, followed by the inevitable heavy downpour. If you are caught in a heavy downpour while driving, here are some helpful tips to help you get safely to your destination.

1. Slow down. During the initial downpour, the rainwater pushes the oil from the road tar, grime, oil patches and asphalt towards the surface. Since oil is lighter than water, an oil film emerges between the contact patch of your tires and the road surface, making the road slippery. Thus, if you need to brake hard or steer abruptly, chances are your tires will just skid and you'll lose control of the vehicle. But this road condition only happens for a few minutes since continuous heavy downpour will wash the oil towards the roadside or the gutter. Roads are much more slippery in a light drizzle than in heavy rain, so take the extra precaution when driving in a light drizzle. Remember that Michael Schumacher is an accomplished F1 driver in wet conditions, but only inside a racetrack. He still drives sensibly on public roads.

2. Turn on your wipers. Very elementary (my dear Watson) and almost instinctive. But please ensure your wiper and washer systems are functional before you drive your vehicle. Hardened rubber on old wipers leave streaks and lines that can further hamper front visibility, while non-functioning washers cannot clean the windshield of road grime from rain sprays emitted by the tires of the cars in front of you, especially when you?re passing through a muddy area.

3. Turn on your headlights. Contrary to popular beliefs, turning the headlights on will NOT improve your vision during heavy rains. Turning them on will increase your car's visibility to oncoming traffic, especially if the rain limits visibility to only a few feet. The illuminated taillights, on the other hand, will help the drivers behind your car gauge their distance. Use only the headlights and not the bright lights. Since the raindrops absorb light and the bright lights are aimed straight, turning the bright lights on will only create glare in front of your car, which can further limit your forward vision. Driving lights or fog lights are a better alternative but only when they are properly aimed (down on the road instead of straight).

Hazard lights

4. Do NOT turn on your hazard lights. Again, contrary to popular beliefs, turning the hazard lights during a heavy downpour is NOT helpful at all, but downright stupid. This is a case of 'monkey-see-monkey-do' when other drivers turn on their hazard lights just because the vehicle in front of them does. As mentioned, bright lights can cause glare and limit your vision, as well as the vision of drivers of adjacent cars. The flashing lights are also very distracting and should only be used when you're in an emergency or when your vehicle becomes a road hazard. That's why they're called hazard lights. They're supposed to be used to warn other drivers that your vehicle has become a hazard and not to warn them of the hazardous weather conditions. Anyway, they can tell the weather just by looking around, thank you very much. And lastly, when you use your hazard lights other cars won't know when you want to change lanes.

5. Know the topography and the terrain. It would help a lot to know if your destination is flood-prone or not. If the rain pours without letup and you're in high grounds or flood-free areas, it would be more prudent to find a safe place and park rather than continue driving and be caught in a traffic snarl caused by flash floods. Or worse, be caught in a traffic snarl exactly where the floods are and watch helplessly as the flood waters rise and submerge your car. You wouldn't want your car's interior to be wet, soiled and smell like the nearby sewer, would you?

6. Watch out for road hazards. Open manholes, street diggings, ravines and other road hazards may not be visible in a heavy downpour. Also, be vigilant if you are following a truck, a 4WD off-roader or any vehicle with a higher ground clearance than your vehicle. Unseen road ruts may escape these cars? underbellies, but it may just scrape yours. If it hits your car's oil pan or transmission case, you?ll get stuck in the rain and your wallet will later feel the pain.

7. Watch out for commuters and pedestrians. When trailing a jeepney or passing a waiting bus, be more vigilant since commuters may just suddenly get off these vehicles to run to a shelter and dart across your car's path. Be also wary of pedestrians whose vision is shielded by their umbrellas, they may just suddenly cross without looking, or without knowing that your car is approaching. If these human obstacles suddenly appear in front of your car, I hope you were driving slow enough to modulate the brakes without skidding the car or that your car has ABS or that you had enough room to maneuver safely away. Otherwise, this can be a bloody way to test your vehicle insurance company's integrity or your TPL's validity.

8. When in doubt, sit it out. If you're driving on unfamiliar roads or terrain, or you have vision problems caused by the rain glare or you just simply can't see three feet in front of you due to the pouring rain, then find a safe place and park for a while. It is better to wait until the rains cease or until visibility improves rather that continue driving and end up in an accident. In cases like these, it is better to be late than to be sorry. How you while away the time while waiting for the rains to subside is up to you.

Autoindustriya.com would like to wish you safe driving and would like you to arrive alive!

It would be a good idea to check out our Weatherproofing tips for your car to make sure your car is ready for the rainy weather.

*Lester Dizon received the "Best On-Line Feature Story" award at the 3rd Henry Ford Awards for this article.