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Safe Driving in Wet Weather

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BY BRUCE HOTCHKISS, RIPTIDE CORRESPONDENT

“Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day.” The rain may go away, but you can rest assured that if it is winter in California, the rain will return. And just as assuredly, people will drive like idiots and smash into something. It doesn’t have to be that way. Driving in the rain is not that difficult. Really. Believe me. I actually enjoy driving in adverse weather conditions; it forces me to become more aware of all that is going on around me. Driving in the rain involves more than getting into the zone, though. Before even getting behind the wheel, it is essential that your vehicle is up to the task. Tires, windshield wipers, brakes, steering, lights, and the climate control system (heater/defroster) need to be in tiptop shape.

Tires may seem the most obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people are out there speeding along with subpar tires. Tires must be able to disperse water or they will ride up on a cushion of water, otherwise known as hydroplaning. Riding on water is fine for a boat, not so fine for a car. Tires need to grip the road so you can brake and steer. If they are boating along on water there is no grip. So to disperse water, a tire must have sufficient tread to either channel the water or push it out to the sides. Ordinarily, if a tire is worn down to its tread wear bars, it should be replaced. In wet weather, grip is drastically reduced long before a tire is worn down to its wear bars. The newer the tire, the better the grip. Conversely, the more worn the tire is, the more cautious the driver must be. For maximum safety, have your tires checked by a professional prior to the start of the rainy season.

Windshield wipers may seem like an obvious item to check. I’d suggest replacing the wiper blades once a year, probably in early fall. Along with new wiper blades, fill up the windshield washer fluid with good-quality washer fluid. I’m partial to windshield washer antifreeze because it usually cuts through oily grime easier, but it is hard to find.

Brakes are always important, but a brake that grabs in wet, slippery conditions can be deadly. If you notice the slightest pull to one side or the other when braking, get the brakes checked and repaired.

The steering system needs to be tiptop, too. Any play in the steering may mean small corrections in the dry, but in the wet those small corrections may be magnified. Slow and steady is the way to go in the wet, but sloppy steering may be deadly.

During the rainy season all of my commuting is done in the dark. I depend on my vehicle’s headlights to show me the way, and I depend on the taillights to make sure I am seen. Whether you drive in the dark or not, make sure all lights on your vehicle work properly. Remember, the law states that you must have your headlights and taillights on when you use your windshield wipers.

The climate control system is often overlooked. I know because I see way too many cars with fogged-up windows. Make sure the defroster delivers proper airflow to the windshield, and check the coolant thermostat to ensure the coolant reaches its proper operating temperature quickly. If your vehicle has a separate air conditioning button, turn it on; it will aid in defrosting the windshield. Do not use the recirculation button because it will only recycle warm, moist air, fogging the windows.

Okay, now that you’ve got your vehicle in shape, it’s time to head out on the road. Slow(er), smooth, and steady is the rule. Quick moves may be deadly. Do not jerk the wheel, stab the brakes, or jump on the accelerator. Learn to read the road. Look as far forward as possible. “They” say to look at the horizon, but that’s impossible in traffic. Keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you. If you hit a puddle of standing water, do not panic, hold onto the steering wheel, ease off the gas, and STAY OFF THE BRAKES.

In my not-so-humble opinion, the majority of collisions happen because a driver did something stupid. This is especially the case in bad weather. I am well known for my fast driving, but I routinely cut my speed in the rain. I often have cars whizzing by me on 280. How many of them will end up in the guardrail or ditch? Will it be you?

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Nice. Driving in the rain involves more than getting into the zone, though.

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