Living in Oregon, we’re used to rain in all its forms, from mist to drizzle and downpour. Drivers here need to be aware of the hazards each rainy weather condition presents and be prepared.
Driving Hazards of First Rain
While a refreshing change, a summer or fall light mist is one of the most dangerous times for drivers. Light rain on dry pavement coated with oil from motor vehicles and new asphalt creates an oily sheen that rises up in a layer on top of water, making the road surface feel like black ice when drivers hit the brakes. Until heavy rain washes it away, oil on pavement becomes a slippery hazard for an unsuspecting driver.
The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) advises drivers to expect road surfaces to be slick if it hasn’t rained in a while and to be cautious. Wet roads can double your stopping distance, so slow down gradually reducing your speed by half, while avoiding excessive braking or steering. Lowering your speed will also help you watch out for sudden stops caused by disabled cars, debris, and other hazards.
Hydroplaning in Heavy Rain
Heavy rain presents its own set of challenges for drivers. If standing water on the road is deep enough, tires can rise up on top of the water and ride across it creating a condition called “hydroplaning.” Hydroplaning can start at as low as 35mph, becoming even more dangerous at higher speeds. If you start to skid or hydroplane, ease up on the gas, gently apply the brakes, and steer toward the direction of the skid. Once you have control, you can correct your car and get centered back in your lane.
Cruise Control and Hydroplaning
Cruise control is a valuable feature until you find yourself driving in heavy rain. It tends to make hydroplaning worse by trying to keep your vehicle going at a constant speed rather than slowing you down. If your car has cruise control and you find yourself behind the wheel in a rainstorm, disable cruise control. You can disable it by applying your brakes, but if you do not have anti-lock brakes, hitting your brakes while hydroplaning will make the skidding worse. Instead, the National Safety Commission advises you to disable cruise control and lower your speed when it starts to rain. As always when driving through rain, be aware of changing conditions and adapt to them as quickly as possible.