El Niño is in full effect in the Valley. For us that means a lot of rainy weather not unlike that of Seattle.
Being winter, the Valley is full of winter visitors from all over the US and Canada making the roads a bit more crowded than they are during the summer Monsoon months. More drivers on the roads, all with their own driving styles, makes driving in inclement weather even more hazardous.
The chances of being involved in an accident increase during the weather conditions that El Niño brings with it, so now is a good time to review safe driving habits in the rain.
Prepare Your Vehicle
When it comes to driving in rainy weather, safety starts before you drive. Make sure that your windshield wiper inserts are in good condition. You don’t want inserts that leave streaks or that fail to clear the glass in one swipe. In Arizona, our hot and often dry weather can crack and warp the inserts more quickly, so it is a good idea to check them a couple of times a year.
Visibility is extremely important. Not only do you need to be able to see, but you need to make sure you are seen. So, check that all taillights, headlights, turn signals, and brake lights are working properly so that other drivers can see you in a downpour. On rainy, cloudy days, turn on your headlights whenever you drive, regardless of the time of day.
Another important safety measure is to check your tires. Proper inflation and tire tread depth are crucial to maintaining traction on slick roads. The people at AAA suggest that to check tread depth you should take a quarter and insert it upside down into the tire groove. If you can see the top of Washington’s head it is time to get new tires. You should also check your tires pressure (including the spare). This is actually something you should be doing monthly. Be sure to check the pressure when the tires are cold.
Plan Ahead and Pay Attention to Road Signs
Check your routes ahead of time for any accidents, or closures due to poor weather conditions. You can call the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) at 5-1-1 for updates. It is also a good idea to let someone know where you are going and your estimated time of arrival, so if something were to happen, they can send help. If you see a road closed sign, or any other road hazard sign, follow the directions given to you. They are there for your safety. Often times they warn you about flooded roads and flowing washes that you definitely want to avoid.
Leave Room and Slow Down
Water on the roads cause your tires to loose traction. Slowing down will help to reduce your chances of hydroplaning. Even at speeds as low as 35 mph tires can still lose some contact with the road in water. Slow down, leave plenty of room between you and other drivers, and avoid turning sharply and hard breaking. Leaving more space between yourself and other drivers gives you time to stop properly and avoid a collision, as well as offers you the opportunity to see what other cars are doing and avoid collision if one of them should lose control. Your best bet is to stay at least five to six seconds behind the car in front of you.
Avoid Cruise Control
When you do not drive with cruise control, you lift your foot off of the gas pedal to brake. As your foot comes off of the gas, the nose of the car will dip a little which transfers some weight to the front of the vehicle. This, in turn, provides more traction for the front tires, making easier to avoid a potential hazard. However, if you are using cruise control, your speed stays the same after you lift your foot from the gas so there is no dip. Which means that you lose that helpful weight transfer.
If You Hydroplane
Hydroplaning is what happens when the tires have completely lost contact with the pavement and are riding on top of the water. When it happens, steering will feel very light in your hands. The first thing you want to do is gently ease your foot off of the gas. This may help transfer enough weight forward that your tires regain contact with the road. If this is not enough, gently squeeze the breaks to help slow the car down and help transfer weight to the front tires. Do not slam on your brakes. Avoid turning the wheel when you are hydroplaning. If you have your tires facing a certain direction when the front tires finally regain traction, your car may steer off of the road.
Responding to a Skid
Even the most experienced and careful drivers can experience a skid. If you notice your car begin to skid, remain calm and follow these steps from AAA:
• Continue to look and steer in the direction in which the driver wants the car to go.
• Don’t panic, and avoid slamming on the brakes as this will further upset the vehicle’s balance and make it harder to control.
Traveling safely during the El Niño season begins with you. Following these tips should help you to arrive to all of your destinations safely and confidently.