If the typhoons haven't clued you in yet, we're already right in the thick of the rainy season. There are a number of steps to ensure driving safety in the rain. Only one of which involves turning on your hazard lights. Here's a quick guide that might just save your bacon when the roads get wet and greasy.
1. Take good care of your tires, your first line of defense.
* Keep your tires properly inflated. Low inflation pressures mean your tire's contact patch exerts less pressure on the road surface. This bigger, lower pressure patch more easily skims across the surface of puddles. This is called "hydroplaning," and it's bad news, because it means you no longer have control over your car.
* Make sure your tires have enough tread. Modern tires have "wear bars" that tell you when your tread is down to 1.6mm, the "federal minimum." Your tires are dangerous in the wet long before they get that far. If your tread is down to 3mm of tread and the rainy season is coming up, consider replacing your tires or be content with slowing to a crawl when it rains.
* New tires always go in the back. When changing tires in pairs, new tires always go in the back. When you lose grip in front, the car will travel in a straight line and pressing the brakes will put weight back on the sliding front wheels, giving you control of the car. If you lose grip in the rear, the car will start skidding sideways when you hit a puddle. Pressing the brakes will take even more weight off the sliding rears, turning the slide into a spin.
2. Drive safely and smart.
* Drive slowly. When the rain starts, oil and grime built up over the past days are lifted off the road, forming a gritty rainbow film that has about as much grip as a greased pig. During various car tests, we've observed braking distances lengthen by 10-20m in wet conditions, even without visible puddles. In an emergency, that distance can mean the difference between a light tap on the bumper and ending up in the hospital.
* Drive smoothly. Every control input you make on this slippery surface should be measured and deliberate. Any steering movements entered should be gentle and smooth. You should also be gentle with the gas, clutch and brake pedals. Jerky movements will shift the car's weight, potentially causing the tires on the lighter side to lose grip. Yes, sometimes suddenly swerving to avoid a puddle is more dangerous than driving through it at reduced speed.
* Keep distance. Keep back from the car in front of you to avoid spray and to give yourself room to swerve or brake in an emergency. If you can't see the car in front of the car in front of you, you're way too close. Looking down the road and constantly identifying possible obstacles and potential escape routes and safe lines are a must, whether it's raining or not.
* Find the dry line. Stay away from the leftmost lane and the right shoulder, as water puddles up where the road slopes downward toward its edges. Hitting puddles with one wheel at speed can cause your car to veer dangerously toward the barriers or the gutter.
Avoid deep tire ruts, as water pools there, but don't straddle lanes in traffic! Sometimes, following in a bus's tire tracks gives you a bit more grip, as the bus's tires squeegee the water away from the driving line.
* Keep your brakes dry. It's a good idea to squeegee your brakes dry after passing through deep puddles. Do this by squeezing the brake pedal until you feel them bite very slightly, and holding the pedal in that position for a few seconds while moving. Don't overdo it though, and pay attention to traffic behind you to ensure you're not going to be rear-ended while doing this.
3. Use your lights properly.
* Turn on your daytime running lights or low beams. This makes you visible to other drivers. Your taillights will also help them see you. If visiblity gets low, turn on your rear foglights as well.
* Don't use your high beams. They won't illuminate the road right in front of you, and will just dazzle other drivers.
* Know when to use your hazard lights. Hazard lights signal that you can no longer drive with the flow of traffic, and are now a hazard to other drivers.
If you can keep up with traffic, keep your hazard lights off. This allows you to use your signal lights to notify other drivers when you're turning or merging. This also allows other drivers to concentrate on looking for hidden obstacles, pedestrians, potholes and puddles that don't have lights attached to them for better visibility.
If you can no longer keep up with traffic due to poor visibility, turn on your hazard lights and pull over to the side of the road. The last part is important. Your hazard lights are not going to miraculously keep you from spinning out or crashing into obstacles and pedestrians rendered invisible by the rain. As our technical editor Ferman Lao likes to say, that red triangle is not a force-field button.
If you switch on your hazard lights the moment it starts raining and continue driving at normal speeds, you are taking away your ability to inform other drivers which direction you're turning, and that can be dangerous (never mind irritating).
If you continue driving at over 100kph in the overtaking lane with your hazard lights and high beams on while the rain comes pouring down, well, you're simply asking for it.
Drive smart and be safe. Knowing is half the battle, and now you know.
Artwork by Lloyd de Guzman