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AAA offers tips to keep drivers safe during wet weather

June 1, 2011

From AAA Reports

Helena, Mont.—Spring and summer weather mean more rain showers in many parts of the U.S., which can result in treacherous driving conditions. Nearly 1.2 million traffic crashes occur each year on wet pavement with more than half a million people injured and 5,700 killed, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. AAA reminds motorists to brush up on their wet-weather driving techniques before they get caught out in the rain.

“It’s very easy for drivers to lose control of their vehicles during rainy conditions,” said Tara Hanley, AAA spokesman. “Conditions are most dangerous during the first 10 minutes of a heavy downpour as oil and debris first rise to the road’s surface, then wash away. Knowing how to handle poor traction reduces the potential for hydroplaning, skidding or sliding off the road completely.”

Safety starts before you drive

Before wet weather hits, it’s important to prepare your car in advance. Replace windshield wipers that leave streaks or don’t clear the glass in a single swipe. The life of a rubber insert is typically six to 12 months, depending on its exposure to heat, dirt, sunlight, acid rain and ozone. Streaking and chattering are common clues that the rubber is breaking down and replacement is needed.

Also, make sure all headlights, taillights, brake lights and turn signals are properly functioning to be sure other drivers will see you during downpours.

Tire tread depth and inflation also is imperative to maintaining good traction with the roadway during wet weather. To check tread depth, insert a quarter upside down into a tire groove. If you can see above Washington’s head at any point, start shopping for new tires. Check the tire pressures (including the spare) once a month when the tires are cold. Always follow the inflation pressure recommendations in your owner’s manual, or those on the tire information label that is located in the glove box or on the driver’s door jamb.

Avoid cruise control

Most modern cars feature cruise control. This feature works great in dry conditions, but when used in wet conditions, the chance of losing control of the vehicle can increase. To prevent loss of traction, the driver may need to reduce the car’s speed by lifting off the accelerator, which cannot be accomplished when cruise control is engaged.

When driving in wet-weather conditions, it is important to concentrate fully on every aspect of driving. Avoiding cruise control will allow the driver more options to choose from when responding to a potential loss-of-traction situation, thus maximizing your safety.

Slow down and leave room

Slowing down during wet weather driving can be critical to reducing a car’s chance of hydroplaning, when the tires rise up on a film of water. With as little as 1/12 inch of water on the road, tires have to displace a gallon of water per second to keep the rubber meeting the road. Drivers should reduce their speed to correspond to the amount of water on the roadway. At speeds as low as 35 mph, new tires can still lose some contact with the roadway.

To reduce chances of hydroplaning, drivers should slow down, avoid hard braking or turning sharply, and drive in the tracks of the vehicle ahead of you. Also, it’s important for motorists to allow ample stopping distance between cars by increasing the following distance of the vehicle in front of them and beginning to slow down to stop for intersections, turns and other traffic early.

Responding to a skid

Even careful drivers can experience skids. If a driver feels their car begin to skid, it’s important to not panic and follow these basic steps:

u Continue to look and steer in the direction in which the driver wants the car to go.

u Avoid slamming on the brakes as this will further upset the vehicle’s balance and make it harder to control.

To help drivers brush up on their wet-weather driving, AAA Driver Training offers a free brochure “Get A Grip: A Guide to Wet-Weather Driving Techniques,” online at AAA.com/PublicAffairs. AAA can be visited on the Internet at www.AAA.com.

From the June 1-7, 2011 issue

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