WHAT IS HYDROPLANING?
Hydroplaning happens when the tires on your vehicle lose their grip on a road surface and instead travel on a film of water sitting on top of the road. Hydroplaning dramatically reduces a driver's ability to steer and brake.
WHAT CAUSES HYDROPLANING?
Hydroplaning is caused by a combination of road conditions, vehicle speed, tread depth and vehicle weight. Let's take a closer look at these four factors.
1. ROAD CONDITIONS
As water depth on a road surface increases to more than 1/10th of an inch, the risk of hydroplaning worsens. The intensity of the rainfall, type of road surface and drainage conditions play a crucial role in triggering conditions ripe for hydroplaning. Essentially, the deeper the standing water, the greater the chance for a vehicle to hydroplane.
2. VEHICLE SPEED
Tires need time to evacuate water between their treads and the road surface. The higher the speed, the less time there is for that to happen. Depending on the tires' tread depth and design, along with the amount of water on the road, hydroplaning can occur at speeds as low as 35 mph.
3. TREAD DEPTH
Of all the factors that contribute to hydroplaning (or to resisting it), a tire's tread depth is one of the most critical. Even the best tires on the road offer little resistance to hydroplaning when their tread is worn down to 2/32nd of an inch or less, so it's vital that worn tires are replaced as soon as possible to ensure safe driving on wet roads.
4. VEHICLE WEIGHT
When you compare two vehicles equipped with the same size and type of tire, the heavier vehicle holds an advantage in resisting hydroplaning because there's a greater force to displace water from underneath the tire.
HOW DANGEROUS IS HYDROPLANING?
Hydroplaning is one of many serious hazards for drivers. It can result in a motorist losing control of a car and crashing.
Seventy percent of weather-related crashes in the U.S. happen on wet pavement, and 46% occur during rainfall. Worse yet, wet pavement is blamed for 78% of weather-related crash injuries and 76% of weather-related crash deaths.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY VEHICLE IS HYDROPLANING?
Here are four tips if your vehicle starts to hydroplane.
- Keep a clear head and try not to panic. Overreacting will cause the situation to worsen.
- Don't slam on the brakes. Instead, take your foot off the accelerator and let your vehicle slow down. If you need to, and your vehicle is equipped with anti-lock brakes, you can lightly apply the brakes to help your tires regain traction.
- Hold the steering wheel steady. Moving the steering wheel too much one way or the other while hydroplaning could cause your car to further lose traction and spin out of control.
- Avoid coming to a complete stop after you've gained control of the car. If you need a few moments to regain your composure, be sure to pull safely onto the shoulder or off the road entirely. Remember that approaching motorists also may be dealing with hydroplaning.
HOW CAN I PREVENT HYDROPLANING?
It may not seem like it, but there's plenty you can do to avoid hydroplaning. Here are some suggestions.
- Slow down. If the roads are wet, reduce your speed by 5-10 mph or more if you see standing water.
- Don't use cruise control when roads are wet. Instead, rely on manual control so you're intently paying attention to the road.
- Steer clear of puddles and standing water. If possible, avoid driving through water that has pooled on the road.
- Make the right turn. You may be inclined to turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction of where your car is sliding. However, that's not the right move. Instead, turn the wheel toward the direction that you're sliding.
- Inspect your tires. Take a look at your tires at least once a month to ensure the tread depth is at least 2/32nd of an inch. You may have heard of the quick, easy way to check tread depth — just take a penny and place it in one of the tire's grooves with Abe Lincoln's head facing the base of the groove. If the tread doesn't cover any part of Lincoln's head, the tire is at or below 2/32nd of an inch and should be replaced.
- Track vehicles in front of you. If cars ahead of you leave tracks on a slick road, try to drive in those tracks. Those tracks mean some water on the road has already been dispersed.
- Maintain a safe distance. Even without hydroplaning, stopping distances increase dramatically in the rain. Increase your following distance from the usual 2 or 3 seconds to 3 or 4 seconds or more to allow for this.
- Properly inflate your tires. Underinflated or overinflated tires can increase your chances of hydroplaning. Check your tire pressure often and adjust it to match your vehicle manufacturer's recommendations.
- Get your tires rotated and balanced regularly. Tire rotation helps extend the tread life of your tires. It's typically recommended that rotation be done every 5,000 miles. Among other benefits, balancing the tires can help decrease tread wear. A standard recommendation for tire balancing is every 5,000 to 6,000 miles.
TIRES DESIGNED TO MINIMIZE HYDROPLANING
Tire tread patterns vary greatly because tires are designed to deliver performance that aligns with a vehicle's needs and owner’s priorities. Examples include:
- Touring tires, which emphasize ride comfort, minimal noise and all-season traction, are designed with tread patterns with additional features called slots and sipes to help provide traction in snowy and wet conditions.
- Performance tires, which focus on maximum control when cornering, accelerating and braking, are available in both “Summer” and “All-Season” versions. Both are designed to resist hydroplaning, but only the All-Season versions are acceptable for use in freezing temperatures.
While hydroplaning can be scary for drivers, keep in mind that if you are prepared (including installation of the right tires) and practice defensive driving techniques, you and your car can come out of the situation without a scratch. Visit a Bridgestone tire dealer near you to learn more about tires that can help resist hydroplaning.