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Hydroplaning: How to Avoid It and Recover from It

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If you’ve ever slid while driving on a wet road, you’ve probably experienced hydroplaning. Feeling like you’ve lost control of the car — for even a few seconds — can be terrifying. Hydroplaning can happen when you hit a patch of standing water on the road, and usually means you’re going too fast for the conditions and/or your tire tread has worn thin.

Why is hydroplaning so dangerous? The water causes the tires to lose contact with the road surface, which makes it difficult to steer the car. When the car starts to ride on top of the water instead of on the road, a natural reaction is to slam on the brakes and overcorrect. This can send your vehicle veering out of control.

Hydroplaning can happen to anyone, no matter how skilled a driver they are. So it’s important to know how to get back on track before you collide with another vehicle, pedestrian, or object. Below we offer some tips on how to avoid hydroplaning and – if it does happen — how to get out of the skid and regain control.

How to Avoid Hydroplaning

1. Exercise Caution

When it starts to rain, be on high alert behind the wheel. The oil on the road mixes with the rainwater to produce a slippery substance that can be extremely dangerous. Eventually, if you get enough rain, the water will wash the road clean, so conditions should become less risky. But for the first ten to fifteen minutes, slow down and keep an eye out for other drivers skidding. Also, leave more space between you and the car in front.

2. Slow Down

Hydroplaning can happen when driving too fast and/or accelerate too quickly. Most driving safety experts say that going at speeds faster than thirty-five miles per hour can cause your vehicle to hydroplane. If you’re driving in rain, you should be going slower anyway to avoid all the other potential dangers that inclement weather can bring.

3. Avoid Standing Water

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not always easy to do if the entire roadway is submerged, or you come across a puddle while driving at speed. It takes only shallow water to cause your vehicle to hydroplane. Slow down and proceed with extreme caution or pull over to the side of the road until you can see a way to get around the water.

4. Maintain Tires

As mentioned, thin or bald tires can cause you to lose control in standing water. However, in addition to replacing your tires before the tread becomes bare, be sure to have the tires rotated and balanced regularly. A good way to remember is to have the tires done every other time you get the oil changed. And always make sure your tires are inflated properly.

5. Turn Off Cruise Control

If you’re using cruise control on the highway, turn it off when it starts to rain. That way, you’ll be more in control and can react faster if your vehicle starts to hydroplane since you can brake more easily. You may want to also drive in a lower gear, as that will give you more traction and prevent you from driving too fast.

How to Recover from Hydroplaning

Even with all the precautions, hydroplaning can still happen — to even the most skilled and careful drivers. So it’s important to know what to do to get out of the skid.

1. Don’t Panic

The most important thing to remember when you start to hydroplane is to stay calm. While it’s natural to panic when you feel yourself losing control of your vehicle, it’s important to resist the urge. Stay focused and know that the skid will typically only last a few seconds, so wait it out.

2. Avoid Braking

Fight the normal reaction to brake as that can make your car skid completely out of control. If you were braking when you started to hydroplane, slowly release the brake until you get control of the vehicle. If your foot was on the accelerator when you went into the skid, gently ease up on the accelerator. The key is to not do any movement too quickly or too aggressively.

3. Turn into the Hydroplane Direction

It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s the best way to get back on track. Grip your steering wheel firmly and turn your wheel in the direction your car is hydroplaning, instead of the instinctive direction. Avoid turning too sharply or you may end up overcorrecting (which can be just as dangerous). Hold steady on the wheel and use small movements to correct the vehicle’s course.

4. Feel the Tires Reconnect

You’ll know when you’re out of the skid and back on course as you’ll feel the tires connect again with the road surface. Adjust your speed accordingly and breathe a sigh of relief. If the hydroplaning experience really shook you up, pull over till you’ve had a chance to regain your equilibrium.

Whether you live in an area with year-round rainfall or just seasonal precipitation, hydroplaning is a driving fact of life. If you slow down when you encounter any standing water on the road and stay calm while following the suggestions above, you’ll be able to ride out that hydroplane event like a pro.

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