9 must-know tips for safer driving in the wet

While it’s never ideal, driving in wet weather can be made safer with a big helping of know-how and perhaps a little dose of not-now.

By Citro partner Carbar

Driving is stressful at any age, but many of us lose our confidence as we get older. We don’t hear or see quite as well as we used to and our reaction time definitely feels less trustworthy.

Add in a rainy day and the anxiety can be enough to rethink an outing altogether. Who needs to go anywhere anyway, right?

Well, you do. Not wanting to drive in wet weather shouldn’t be the reason you cancel your plans (although we’d totally understand if staying rugged up by a cosy fire at home is more appealing).

That said, if the weather is grim, the first thing you should ask yourself is whether the trip is necessary at all. If you can delay driving until after the weather clears up, that’s the safest thing to do.

But if a late-night pizza run on a stormy night still feels like a good idea, here’s what you should do to drive safely.

1. Check your vehicle

This is something you should do regularly, no matter the weather. But when it’s raining, it’s particularly critical to check that your vehicle is in good working order before you set out.

Check that your tyres aren’t too worn down – they provide the grip that will keep your car driving on wet roads. Most modern tyres have built-in wear indicators that are visible in the tread to act as a guide.

While you’re there, check that your tyre pressure is good. Under or over inflated tyres will also reduce your traction.

Before you set out, make sure the demister on the front and back windows are working properly. Switching your aircon to cold and blasting it directly on the windscreen can also help keep the fog at bay. It goes without saying that you should make sure your windows are nice and clean in the first place.

2. Slow right down

While slowing down isn’t something Citro usually advocates for, when it’s raining that’s exactly what you need to do.

This may seem like an especially obvious wet weather tip, but that doesn’t stop some people cutting laps of the Bolte Bridge like it’s the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit. Do yourself and everyone else on the road a favour by dropping your speed.

Even a gentle shower can obstruct your vision and cause the road to become slippery. You’re less likely to skid or aquaplane when you’re not driving at speed. Plus you’ll give yourself more time to react if something happens.

3. Take it easy

If raindrops keep falling on your windscreen, call ahead to say you’ll be late for your 7pm table (or wherever else you happen to be heading). Allow for extra travel time so you can take it easy.

Not only will you be driving slower (see above), but hopefully so will everyone else. You’ll also need to factor in delayed driving times due to accidents, hazards and detours along the way.

4. Switch on your headlights (but not your high beams)

Even in light rain, turning your headlights on will make the road more visible to you and you more visible to other drivers. Make it a rule of thumb that if you need to turn your windscreen wipers on, you’ll turn your headlights on as well.

That said, try to keep your high beams off during heavy rain. They won’t help you see better as the rain will reflect the light back at you.

If your car is fitted with fog lights, you can use them during heavy rain. If you don’t have fog lights and it’s absolutely bucketing down, slowing right down and switching on your hazard lights is good practice until you can safely pull over to wait for the rain to ease.

5. Keep well back

Wet conditions can make driving unpredictable, not just for you but for everyone else on the road. For this reason, you can’t just assume everyone behind the wheel is Lewis Hamilton in a state-of-the-art Mercedes C-Class, so you should increase the space between you and the car in front to give yourself extra response time.

The NSW Government recommends increasing the gap from 3 seconds (which is the usual recommended ‘crash avoidance space’ between vehicles) to 4 seconds in wet weather.

Their advice for calculating your crash avoidance space is as follows:

  1. Select an object on the side of the road, like a power pole, tree or sign.
  2. Note when the car in front of you fully passes this object. Then start counting in seconds ("1 thousand and 1, 2 thousand and 2, 3 thousand and 3, 4 thousand and 4").
  3. If your vehicle passes the object after you’ve counted to 4 seconds, this is enough crash avoidance space during wet weather.

If you don’t get to the 4-second count, you’re following too closely behind the car in front. Slow down to increase the distance between you.

6. Brake early and easy

The main reason for increasing your crash avoidance space during wet weather is that sudden braking in the wet can cause your car to skid. Even if your car’s basically a seatbelt on wheels (we’re looking at you, Mercedes M-Class), you still need to squeeze the brake, not stomp on it.

To avoid fast braking, keep your focus on the road and be even more mindful than usual of pedestrians, bike riders and, especially, orange lights. A wet day is not the time to push the lights – anticipate a green light turning orange well in advance so you can gently come to a stop when it does.

7. Avoid puddles

On the road puddles are pools of the great unknown. Even the most humble looking puddle can hide a large pothole that wants to mess with your wheel alignment. There’s also the risk of aquaplaning (where you lose traction and start skidding) when you drive through any pool of water.

If you can’t safely change lanes or carefully swerve to avoid puddles, slow right down. And give trucks and buses plenty of room – one ill-timed truck splash onto your windscreen and you may as well be driving under water.

Last thing, a puddle is one thing, but it goes without saying that you should never, ever drive through floodwater.

8. Keep your cruise control off

Cruise control should only be used when driving conditions are steady and wet roads aren’t that. If you use cruise control during wet weather, you risk losing control of your vehicle, aquaplaning or even skidding.

If you find yourself aquaplaning, take your foot off the accelerator and if you must brake, do it gently. If your car has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), you can gently brake as normal. If it doesn’t, use a light pumping motion to slow your car down until you regain traction.

If you do find yourself in an outright skidding situation, don’t panic. Depending on your type of car, this is what you should do:

  • Front-wheel drive: take your foot off the accelerator and, if possible, steer into the direction of the skid
  • Rear-wheel drive: take your foot off the accelerator and, if possible, steer in the opposite direction of the skid
  • Four-wheel or all-wheel drive: take your foot off the accelerator and, if possible, steer in the direction of the skid. Once you’ve regained control, steer the other way.

9. Pull over and stop

If the rain’s so thick you can’t even see the lines on the road - stop. If you feel like your visibility is even slightly limited - stop. If you feel out of your depth and uncomfortable at any time - stop.

Carefully pull over to a safe place by the side of the road (and preferably in a quiet side street) and wait it out.

There’s nowhere you need to be that’s worth risking your life to get to.

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