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Kevin ClemensNotes From the Road

Safer Wet-Weather Driving
By Kevin Clemens

When it snows, most drivers slow down and take extra precautions. But that's not necessarily the case when it rains. Yet driving in wet weather is considerably more dangerous than driving in the dry. Poor visibility, lower levels of grip and the chance of hitting deep puddles are just some of the problems a driver needs to deal with.

The good news is that modern technology in the form of more efficient windshield wipers, better windshield defoggers, and tires with enhanced wet-traction capabilities have made wet driving safer. Nonetheless, there are several steps that you can take to improve the safety of your wet-weather driving.
Being Seen
The most important factor in safe wet driving is the ability to see and be seen (and this latter point is often forgotten). Being seen by other drivers is easy - simply turn on your low-beam headlights when it rains, even during the daytime. (In some states, this is the law.) This simple action will allow other drivers to notice your car from the front (headlights) and the rear (taillights). In a really heavy downpour, when you either have stopped on the shoulder or are moving at less than 10 or 15 mph in the slow lane, you should consider turning on your four-way flashers to alert other drivers that you are there. (State laws vary about this practice, so check your local driving codes.)
Seeing out of your vehicle requires several important considerations:
  • Your wipers must be new enough to remove water from the windshield without streaking.

  • Your defogger must be powerful enough to keep the windows clear. Most defoggers use the car's air conditioning system to help with the process. With some cars, you have the ability to turn the A/C on and off separately from the defroster function. If so, even in the winter, turn on the A/C to help dehumidify and defog. Some cars also have an air recirculation switch. If so, make sure that it is set on "fresh air"; rather than recirculation. All of these steps will help speed up defrosting.

  • Most rear window defoggers use electrical heating wires on the rear glass. It's common on older cars for a few of these "lines" to become broken, usually from someone cleaning the window too vigorously. In most cases, this can be repaired.

  • At night, use your low-beam headlights to avoid excessive glare from the raindrops. Remember: High beams do not help visibility in the rain.

  • The inside of your car's windshield and window glass must be clean and free from any oily films that may cause bad reflections or distortions as you drive. Cleaning the inside of the windshield is particularly critical.

  • If you use an automated car wash, the spray wax can sometimes build-up on the windows, causing the water to stick to the glass and making vision a problem. Clean your windows even after a car wash.
Your tires are the only contact your vehicle has with the road, and their condition is critical to wet-weather traction. If your tires are worn and the tread depth is below two millimeters, you may experience hydroplaning, especially at higher speeds or in deep water.
One way to test the tread depth is to put a penny into a tread groove head first. If President Lincoln's head is inside the tread, you still have usable tread left. If you can see Lincoln's entire head, it's time for new tires. Another way to check tire wear is to look for the wear bars molded into the major tread grooves. If the wear bars are visible, the tires are worn. New tires are obviously ideal for wet conditions, since tires loose their ability to shed water as they wear.

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