What is aquaplaning?
Also known as hydroplaning, aquaplaning is where water creates a barrier between a vehicle’s tyre and the surface, thus causing said vehicle to lose all traction. This means that braking and steering is significantly impacted, which can lead to collisions.
What causes aquaplaning?
When heavy rainfall occurs, water can pool on the road. This can be exacerbated where there are dips, divots, and holes in the road. In order to cause aquaplaning, the pool of water needs to be at least 2.5mm deep – this is deeper than the tread depth on most tyres, and therefore eliminates the ability to grip the road.
The condition of a vehicle’s tyres plays a significant role in whether or not aquaplaning occurs, as does the speed at which you’re travelling. According to the RAC, high-quality tyres in good condition are able to clear the equivalent of a bucket of water from the road every seven seconds – poor quality tyres cannot clear as much water and therefore may fall victim to aquaplaning.
How to tell if your car is aquaplaning
There are a number of signs that your car might be aquaplaning. If you’re able to notice and react to them quickly, you stand a better chance of avoiding an accident. Here are the things to look out for:
- Your engine suddenly becoming louder despite no change in acceleration/gear
- The car feeling like you’ve downshifted several gears, leading to an increase in revs
- The steering becoming light and ineffective
- The back end of the vehicle drifting from side to side in a movement known as ‘fishtailing’
What to do if your car is aquaplaning
If you feel your car aquaplaning, the first thing to do is try not to panic. You need to think clearly and take the following actions to retain control of your vehicle and avoid a crash.
- Resist the temptation to slam on the brakes; brake gently
- Ease off the accelerator gradually
- Keep the steering wheel straight
- If using cruise control, switch it off
The reduction in speed is crucial to regaining traction, but it’s important that you don’t brake too hard, as this can cause your car to go into a spin. As you slow down gradually, your tyres will find grip on the road and you can start to control the car again. While slowing down, it’s vital that you keep the wheel straight – any aggressive turns can also cause a spin, which can be incredibly dangerous, particularly at high speeds on busy roads.
How to avoid aquaplaning
- Check the weather – if you’re going to be driving in heavy rain, make sure you stay alert to the risks of aquaplaning. Keep an eye on the surfaces ahead of you to see if there’s any visible surface water – this is the biggest threat to your car’s grip.
- Watch your speed – if you hit surface water at a high speed, the aquaplaning can be significantly worse and much harder to control or rectify. Make sure to drive at a suitable speed in heavy rain. A common suggestion is that speeds of 30mph are less likely to lead to aquaplaning, whereas aquaplaning at 50mph and above can be extremely difficult to control.
- Keep your tyres in check – As mentioned earlier in the article, the quality of your tyres has a direct impact on your chances of aquaplaning. If you know your tyres are old and worn, consider replacing them. If replacing them isn’t feasible, take great care when driving so as to avoid aquaplaning.
The legal minimum tyre tread depth is 1.6mm, and they need to be properly inflated. Check your tyre pressure at a petrol station and you can check your tread depth using a 20p coin; place the coin in the groove, and if the outer band of the coin cannot be seen, your tyres have enough depth.
- Smooth driving – Gentle turns, appropriate speeds and careful braking are effective in avoiding unwanted spins. Make sure you’re aware of upcoming turns, junctions and traffic backlogs – this means you’ll have sufficient time to brake carefully and turn gently, as opposed to aggressive movements which can affect the stability of the vehicle.
- Follow the traffic – If you’re behind other cars, they will have cut through standing water already, leaving tyre tracks on the surface. Try and align your vehicle with them to ensure you get the dry sections of road.
Aquaplaning can be a very scary experience for drivers, no matter how many years you’ve been behind the wheel for. By following the above advice, you can reduce your chances of being caught out by surface water and ensure safe arrival at your destination.
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