Heavy rainfall in the UK makes for challenging road conditions and drivers must be extremely careful to stay safe and in control of their vehicles. When roads have flooded or otherwise have a large amount of surface water on them, drivers are at risk of what we know as aquaplaning. Aquaplaning can be a frightening experience and puts drivers at risk of a collision or accident as they lose control of their vehicle.
In this guide, road safety experts at Bull Barrier explain what aquaplaning is, how it happens and the steps you can take to avoid it.
What is aquaplaning?
Aquaplaning is what happens to a vehicle when excess water builds up between the tyres and road. If water cannot be displaced quickly enough and the pressure of the water exceeds that of a vehicle’s tyres on the road, the vehicle will rise above the road surface to sit instead atop a layer of water. This means an immediate loss of traction, which causes the wheels to slip and makes the vehicle unresponsive to steering, braking or acceleration. The driver at this point essentially loses control over their vehicle and is at risk of skidding or spinning off course. Understandably, drivers often panic in this situation and may be unsure how to regain control.
How does it happen?
Aquaplaning can result from heavy rainfall building up on a road’s surface, or can otherwise be caused by pools of water where there are holes in a road. The deeper the water and the higher the speed at which a vehicle is travelling, the more likely the driver is to experience aquaplaning. It can also be made worse by the condition of a vehicle’s tyres, with low tread depth being a significant risk factor. Good quality tyres with a higher tread depth are able to clear the equivalent of a bucket of water off the road every seven seconds, whereas tyres with low tread will struggle to clear as much. As tyres get worn down they become less efficient at displacing water and can exacerbate the problem.
How to avoid it?
Check the condition of your tyres
Regularly check your tyres to ensure that they are in good condition and that your tyre pressure is what it should be. Your car manual will tell you what your tyre pressure should be in order for your vehicle to perform safely. Your tyres must not be too old or worn down as this decreases tread depth. The minimum legal tread depth for a tyre is 1.6mm, but you should not leave them until they reach this stage if you’ll be driving in wet conditions.
Don’t drive too fast
If you see water on the road coming up, slow down. A vehicle travelling at a higher speed is more likely to have its tyres lose their grip on the road and cause you to lose control. A slower speed improves traction and decreases the risk of aquaplaning.
Avoid sudden actions
Drive smoothly and avoid sudden changes in direction. Any sudden actions could make you lose control of your vehicle in wet conditions and makes you more likely to slide straight into another vehicle or the road safety barriers.
Follow the tracks
If you feel at risk and are following a car in front, their tyres will make tracks in the water. These tracks show where water has already been displaced by another vehicle, so by following them at a safe distance you can reduce your own risk of aquaplaning.
Turn off cruise control
Cruise control should be turned off when driving in wet conditions. Excess surface water may require a timely reduction in speed and this cannot be achieved effectively when using cruise control.
By understanding what aquaplaning is and knowing the risks and preventative methods, you can be better prepared and more confident when driving in wet conditions.