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21 May 2024 · Tips N' Tricks

Weather The Storm

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The wind is howling, the rain is driving and you're about to jump into your car, a nerve-wracking situation for many of us. And with good reason. Slippery roads, low visibility and other by-products of stormy weather can all increase the risk of having an accident. But there's no need to tense up. If you can't put off your trip until conditions improve, following these simple tips will minimise your chances of running into trouble.

1. Don't drive on worn-out tyres

If your tyres don't have sufficient tread to dispel water and grip the road, you'll be heading to the scene of an accident in stormy weather sooner rather than later. The legal tread-depth requirement is 1.6mm but most tyre experts recommend a fresh set when the tread gets down to 3mm.

2. Turn on your headlights

Being seen by other drivers is a fundamental part of avoiding collisions but this can be tough in bad weather. Most cars have high-visibility daytime running lights (DRLs) to get around the issue but if your wheels predate the DRL era, always turn your headlights on before you set off in bad weather.

3. Slow down and pull back

So you're moving. What now? Well, with reduced tyre grip, you're not going to be able to pull up as quickly as you would on the dry road. There's also an increased chance of you encountering obstacles such as fallen branches, broken-down cars and other potential dangers. For all these reasons, you want to slow down, increase your distance from the vehicles ahead and give yourself more of a safety margin if the unexpected arises. As a general rule, you should travel three seconds behind the vehicle in front (on a dry road) so you should increase your crash avoidance space to 4 or more seconds when driving in poor conditions, such as on unsealed (dirt or gravel), icy or wet roads, or at night.

4. Stay alert to the dangers

As well as slowing down, you want to scan the road ahead for dangers such as deep puddles. These can cause hydroplaning/aquaplaning, which is when your tyres cannot displace water fast enough and lose contact with the road surface, taking control of the car from your hands.

If the road is flooded – one of the most dangerous scenarios you can encounter in a car – don't try to drive through. Turn around and find an alternative route.

Keep an eye out too for tall, slab-sided vehicles such as trucks or vehicles towing caravans. They can have trouble staying in their lanes in really gusty weather, so be prepared to keep your distance until the conditions are safer.

5. Don't panic

Even the best attitude and application won't stop you from ending up in a potentially dangerous situation. But if you know how to deal with some key wet-weather scenarios, things don't have to end badly.

If you have to stop suddenly, just press down on the brake pedal as hard as you can and focus on steering where you want to go. Anti-lock braking systems have been a legal requirement in Australia for all new vehicles since 2003 and maximise your car's stopping ability without the risk of locking the wheels, allowing you to slow, steer out of trouble and/or stop. If you drive an older car, though, you'll need to brake firmly but have some finesse to your application to avoid locked-up wheels.

Contrastingly, If you find yourself in a hydroplaning/aquaplaning scenario, you don't want to hit the brakes. Instead, ease off the accelerator and focus on holding your steering wheel straight until you feel control come back. Then gently get on the brakes.

6. Know when to quit

If it's all getting a bit scary, pull over and wait it out until the conditions are safer. Just make sure it's a safe spot to stop, well off the road and you alert other motorists to your presence by keeping your headlights on and switching on your hazard lights.