According to the Met Office, the UK has an average of 133 days of rainfall every year. With a lot of surface water on the roads, comes a potential risk of aquaplaning. Aquaplaning – or hydroplaning – is where you lose control of your vehicle as the tyres loose grip on the road.
As a driver, it’s important to take time to consider what aquaplaning is, how to handle it when behind the wheel and how to avoid it from happening in the first place. Read on for information on how to stay safe on wet roads.
What is aquaplaning?
Aquaplaning happens when water builds up in front of your car’s tyres faster than the weight of your vehicle is able to displace it. This leads to water pushing underneath the tyre, creating a thin layer of water between the rubber and the road surface. For a moment, your tyres lose traction.
Standing water on the road can cause the tyres to lose grip of the road as the car drives onto a cushion of water. This causes the driver to feel as if they have lost control of the car as it makes it harder to steer and brake successfully. Aquaplaning can be scary, no matter how much experience you have as a driver.
What causes aquaplaning?
Heavy rainfall can result in standing water on the roads, which can cause you to aquaplane if you aren’t careful. Poor road conditions, such as mud, oil on the road and smooth surfaces might also add to the issue.
On top of that, aquaplaning is made worse by two factors – the condition of the vehicle’s tyres and the speed at which the vehicle is travelling.
If your tyres are damaged, worn or inflated to the incorrect air pressure, you will increase your chances of aquaplaning. Good quality tyres that are in tip-top condition can clear the equivalent of a bucket of water off the road in 7 seconds. However, tyres with worn tread will struggle to clear as much water, making it possible for a layer of water to build up underneath the tyres.
The faster you travel on a wet road, the less time your tyres have to channel the water away before they’re lifted off the surface. Faster speeds on wet roads means less grip for your tyres to stay in control.
When does it occur?
You’re most likely to aquaplane when driving through puddles or standing water on the road. It’s not always immediately clear how deep a puddle or pothole is when it has been raining, so it’s good practice to reduce your speed if there has been significant rainfall.
How can you tell if your car is aquaplaning?
When you are driving on a wet road, there are a few telling signs your car is hydroplaning:
- The engine suddenly gets louder
- It feels as if you’ve dropped down a gear while travelling at speed, causing the revs to increase sharply
- You feel the steering become light
- You experience the back end of the car drifting, also known as ‘fishtailing’
How to control an aquaplaning vehicle
With the amount of rain we get across the UK, it’s worth knowing what to do if your vehicle aquaplanes - though this is not a situation that you’ll be able to prepare in advance for!
If your car does aquaplane, your steering will go very light and, although it only lasts a few seconds, it often feels much longer. It can be a scary situation and you should act quickly to avoid losing control of the vehicle.
- Avoid hitting the brakes hard as this can cause the car to skid
- Gently ease off the accelerator
- Hold the steering wheel straight
- If the back tyres drift from side to side avoid turning the wheel as this can overcorrect the swing and cause you to slide into a collision
- When the tyres grip the road surface again, you can brake to slow down
How to avoid aquaplaning
- Always check the weather conditions before you drive. Make sure you react to warning signs and you alter your driving and speed according to the road conditions.
- Keep your tyres in good condition and at the correct air pressure. Check the pressure when the tyres are cold, topping up as needed.
- Avoid driving too fast in wet weather. Even if it has stopped raining, there can be a lot of water and oils on the roads. A vehicle moving at 30mph will have a better chance of keeping enough traction to avoid aquaplaning over a vehicle travelling at 50mph.
- Avoid making sudden actions such as hitting the brakes or turning the wheel.
- Puddles tend to form at the edge of the road. Move your car towards the centre of the road or lane to avoid them.
- Drive in the tyre tracks left by vehicles in front of you. Their tyres will have already displaced a lot of the surface water, which makes it easier for your tyres.
- Avoid using cruise control when driving on wet roads.
- Keep scanning the road ahead of you to look for standing water and hydroplaning vehicles so that you have enough time to react.
By understanding what aquaplaning is, how to avoid it and how to handle an aquaplaning vehicle, you will be in a better position to drive safely in the wet conditions that are often presented to us as UK drivers.