Aquaplaning: What is it and How to Stay Safe?

Whilst 70 mph gales, waves breaking over flood defences and falling trees are all dangers to be aware of, we thought it was worth focusing in on one factor which can affect drivers facing “normal” rainfall as well as extreme weather.

What is Aquaplaning?

Aquaplaning: a situation in which a vehicle slides out of control on a wet road.

Whilst this Oxford English Dictionary definition tells us a good meaning of the term, it doesn’t help to understand how it happens and what to do if it does.

What Happens when a Car Aquaplanes?

In wet conditions, as a car travels along the road, surface water forms a wave in front of each tyre and moves around it. This is due to the pressure of the tyre on the road being greater than the pressure of the water beneath it.  The tyre tread also helps to keep the tyres in contact with the surface of the road, by funnelling the water away from the tyre.

When the water on the road is deep enough depth, the pressure of the water underneath the tyre can be more than that of the tyre pushing down. This prevents the tyre from being able to funnel the water and lifts the car off the surface of the road. In some conditions, if the car is going fast enough, the water can even roll on top of the tyre, eliminating the tyre’s grip. This can cause the driver to lose control and grip on the road.

The rubber of the tyre which grips to the road in dry conditions, has been shown to increase the risk of aquaplaning. This is because it seals tiny pits in the road surface that are full of water, which would otherwise add to the friction.

How to Reduce the Risk

  • After water, speed is the biggest factor which contributes to cars aquaplaning. Drive slower in wet conditions and give your tyres time to move water out of the way.
  • Keep your tyres in good condition. The legal limit for tyres are a depth of 1.6 millimetres. Many tyre manufacturers recommend replacing them once the tread reaches 3 mm. Bald tyres are dangerous whatever the weather.
  • Avoid driving through large puddles by keeping a central position in the road. More water is likely to gather towards the edges of the road.
  • Do not use cruise control in stormy weather.
  • Maintain a safe distance from the car in front and aim to drive through their tread marks. This makes less work for your tyres.

What to Do if Your Car Aquaplanes

  • Look out for a sudden rise in revs and a lightness of steering, as your first warning signs.
  • Keep calm. If you have cruise control turned on, switch it off using the controls, not by applying a pedal.
  • Resist the temptation to steer the car in sudden movements. Allow the car to follow the direction it is moving in, holding the steering wheel steady.
  • Reduce the speed by taking your foot off the accelerator slowly, not braking.

We hope this information will help you to stay safe in wet conditions.

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