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News Room

Crucial Road Safety Tips For Driving In Wet Conditions

Jason Snyman
2020-02-12
Heavy rain last week, particularly in Johannesburg, led to severe flooding, road closures and chaos. Though best to stay indoors during this kind of wet weather, we know that the roads aren't always avoidable. So, we put together some helpful road safety tips for when you’re forced to weather the storm.

Heavy rain last week, particularly in Johannesburg, led to severe flooding, road closures and chaos, leaving over 200 families homeless, countless missing and, as of the count just two days ago, three confirmed deaths. The road is no safe place to be during such wet weather, but, of course, many South Africans commuting to work and back simply don’t have much of a choice, or may find themselves caught off guard. 

These wet weather conditions mean that tyres may only have half as much grip as they would on a dry road. We have to brake earlier, drive at slower speeds (especially when entering corners, or passing through flooded areas), and maintain focus on the road at all times. A single error, or rash decision, could result in an accident. 

Driving recklessly increases the chances of hydroplaning (aquaplaning), which occurs when the tread of the tyres is no longer able to channel the water away, resulting in (essentially) the tyres lifting from the road surface and onto the surface of the water, instead. This causes the vehicle to skim across the surface of the water, rendering the driver almost helpless to control it.  

But, of course, if you do end up aquaplaning, it's important to remain calm. Do not brake, but slowly lift your foot from the accelerator instead. With a firm grip on the wheel, gently steer into the direction that you want the car to go. Again, any harsh braking or sharp steering will make it much, much worse, as any sudden stops and turns may throw the vehicle into a skid. Once you've regained control, gently accelerate.

Motorists need to be hyper vigilant, obey the rules of the road and adapt their driving according to the conditions. So, we put together some helpful road safety tips for when you’re forced to weather the storm. 

First, Always Check Your Tyre Tread

Before heading out to brave the flooded roads, it’s important that motorists check that their windscreen wipers and brakes are working correctly. Our greatest defence against the wet weather, however, is undoubtedly the condition of our tyres. 

Here are some tips, courtesy of Goodyear, for checking the condition of your tyres:

  • Visible tread wear indicators: You can only see these bars of hard rubber when your tyre’s tread has become worn. If you can see them, your tyres need replacing.
  • Your tread is less than 1.6mm: Under South African law, your tread must be at least 1.6mm deep around the tyre’s circumference. Make sure you measure both the inside and outside of your treads using a tread depth gauge.
  • Something’s lodged in the tread: Most of the time this is easy to remove. But, if you spot something that looks as if it’s gone through the rubber, like a nail, leave it in until you can get to a garage, to avoid a flat tyre.
  • Tyres are worn on the outside: If they’re worn on both of their edges, you might need to inflate them or check for leaks. Tyres loose air naturally, but driving on under-inflated tyres uses more fuel and puts you at greater risk of accidents. If you notice that only the front tyres have worn edges, you might be taking corners too quickly. Make sure to regularly check your tyre pressure.
  • Tyres are worn in the centre: If the centre of the tread is wearing more than the outer edges, you might have over-inflated your tyres. This can increase the risk of a tyre blowout.
  • Uneven wear across a single tyre: The wear patterns on your treads might indicate problems elsewhere. If you notice uneven patches of wear, or bald spots, you might need your wheels balanced or aligned. Bald spots can also indicate that your shocks are worn.
  • Uneven wear across all the tyres: Your tyres won’t wear out at the same rate. The front of your vehicle carries the engine and does most of the steering work. So, tyres on your front axle will wear out more quickly. If they seem to be wearing more than normal, you should have your suspension checked. If wear is greater on one side of the vehicle than the other, it might be time for an alignment.
  • Saw-toothed pattern on tyre edges: If you notice that your tyres have a 'saw-toothed' or 'feathered' appearance around the edges, the likely cause is erratic rubbing against the road. That’s a sign that you may need an alignment done.

Road Safety Tips For Driving In Wet Conditions

Bad weather is not the time to be taking any chances with safety. Accidents in wet conditions are common, so heed the call for safe driving. Switch on your headlights, maintain a good following distance from the car ahead of you, don’t speed, always wear your safety belt, ensure all children and passengers are strapped in correctly, and don’t do anything irresponsible. 

FURTHER READING: Child Seats: Are You Breaking The Law?

Apart from ensuring that your car is in a good condition, the Automobile Association has also warned motorists not to take chances by crossing any low-lying bridges, as the fast-flowing water could cause them to be swept downstream.

Here are twelve tips from the AA to keep you safe when driving in the rain.

  1. Ensure that your headlights and brake lights are working correctly;
  2. Switch on your headlights, especially when natural light is low. Remember this also alerts other drivers to your presence on the road;
  3. Ensure that your windscreen and wipers are in good condition;
  4. Check that your tyres are in good shape;
  5. Don’t speed, and maintain a safe following distance;
  6. Buckle up;
  7. Don’t cross low-lying bridges, even if you think your car can make it;
  8. Slow down before entering standing water on the road, as hitting it at speed may cause the car to ‘pull’ to the side without warning, and it may be deeper than it looks;
  9. Avoid areas where there are known to be adverse conditions;
  10. Adjust your speed for the condition of the road. Just because a road is marked at 120km, doesn’t mean it is safe to travel at this speed in all conditions;
  11. Concentrate on the road, not on anything else, such as electronic devices;
  12. If you are going to an area known to be experiencing bad weather, and there is a possibility you may be stuck for extended periods, remember to take extra blankets, appropriate clothing, and refreshments. Keep your phone charged, and ensure that your tank has enough fuel for the journey.

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