Dr. Traffic

Summer afternoon downpours boost risk of hydroplaning in your car

In 2013, a Gaston County teen’s 1991 Mercury hydroplaned as he was merging onto Interstate 85 north. A tractor trailer hit the car and pushed it about 100 feet to the medium before overturning. The teen did not survive.
In 2013, a Gaston County teen’s 1991 Mercury hydroplaned as he was merging onto Interstate 85 north. A tractor trailer hit the car and pushed it about 100 feet to the medium before overturning. The teen did not survive. WBTV/Crowder's Mountain Fire & Rescue

One thing is almost certain for the hot, steamy summer days that are ahead: afternoon showers.

Summer’s heat can affect the conditions for cloud formation and rainfall. The atmosphere may contain more moisture at high temperatures, says Jake Wimberley, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in the Greenville-Spartanburg office. That extra moisture increases the chance for showers.

Puddles can remain on the road for hours after rain has fallen. And that means a nasty danger lurks: hydroplaning.

Your tires can lose contact with the road at speeds as low as 30 mph – in as little as one-eighth of an inch of water, according to the N.C. Driver’s Handbook. The risk of not being able to stop or slow your vehicle increases as your speed increases.

“Once you begin to hydroplane, any sudden jerking of the steering wheel or even a strong gust of wind can send you into an uncontrollable skid,” the handbook says.

In 2013, a Gaston County teen’s 1991 Mercury hydroplaned as he was merging onto Interstate 85. A tractor trailer hit the car and pushed it about 100 feet to the median before overturning. The teen did not survive.

In another incident, a pickup truck that was pulling a trailer on N.C. 42 in Garner hydroplaned before colliding with a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction last year.

The driver of the Ford F-150 was speeding in the rain as he tried to merge into the left lane before the right lane ended. An SUV struck the pickup, unhitching the trailer. A third vehicle struck the trailer. The driver of the SUV was killed and her teenage daughter was injured.

These steps might prevent your vehicle from hydroplaning:

▪ Make sure your tires have plenty of tread and are properly inflated for proper grip. It’s better to have tire pressure that’s a little high rather than low, the driver’s handbook says.

▪ Avoid driving through standing water.

▪ Stay alert to visible reflections on the road’s surface, a loose feeling when steering and conditions where your tires make a sloshing sound.

▪ Turn off cruise control when it’s raining or after it has rained.

▪ If you do begin to hydroplane, take your foot off the gas pedal and steer straight until the tires grip the road and you regain control, the handbook says.

And, every now and then, we all could take the slow route.

Karen Sullivan: kmsulliv@charlotteobserver.com, @Sullivan_kms

  Comments