Blog How To Avoid Hydroplaning

Apr 3, 2024

What causes hydroplaning when driving?

car hydroplaning on a rainy day

Hydroplaning is one of the most significant risks when driving in the rain. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 70% of weather-related accidents happen on wet pavement.

The road surface is vulnerable to all kinds of weather, from heavy rainstorms to light rains. Although it may seem insignificant, drivers need to understand how much the weather affects road safety. Every month, hundreds of traffic accidents occur due to adverse weather conditions. Hydroplaning is a common cause of traffic crashes today.

This article will explain hydroplaning, how to prevent it, and how to recover from it.

Three main takeaways about hydroplaning

  • Hydroplaning, also known as aquaplaning, is a situation where a vehicle's tires lose contact with the road due to a layer of water on the surface. This can cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle, especially at high speeds.
  • 70% of weather-related accidents happen on wet pavement.
  • A few ways to reduce hydroplaning accidents are by slowing down, avoiding standing water, having proper tires, and driving cautiously in wet weather.

What’s on this page

What is hydroplaning?
How can you tell if your car is hydroplaning?
7 Tips to recover from hydroplaning
How does hydroplaning cause accidents?
Hydroplaning FAQs

What is hydroplaning?

One of the most common risks of driving in the rain is hydroplaning. Rain can be just as dangerous as driving in the fog or winter road conditions if your car begins to hydroplane.

Hydroplaning, also known as aquaplaning, is when the tires lose contact with the road surface and instead skid along the top of a puddle or standing water, which can cause the vehicle to lose control and skid out of control.

Hydroplaning is a phenomenon that occurs when roads are wet or flooded, usually during heavy rain or when there is standing water on the road surface. This happens when the water under the tire cannot escape, and pressure builds up to lift the tire off the ground. Some common factors contributing to hydroplaning include vehicle speed, tire pressure, tread depth, pavement texture, roadway, and environmental conditions.

When a vehicle hydroplanes, the driver may experience a lack of control, as the steering becomes less responsive, and the car may slide or drift. Driving at high speeds can be particularly hazardous, increasing the likelihood of skidding or losing vehicle control.

To minimize the risk of hydroplaning, drivers must drive at safe speeds during wet conditions, maintain proper tire tread depth and inflation, and avoid sudden maneuvers or harsh braking.

How can you tell if your car is hydroplaning?

Recognizing hydroplaning while driving is crucial for responding appropriately and maintaining vehicle control. Here are some signs that your car may be hydroplaning:

  • If your steering wheel is less responsive or your car is not reacting as you expect to your steering inputs, it might indicate hydroplaning.
  • Hydroplaning can cause your vehicle to feel like it's drifting or floating, making it hard to maintain a consistent speed.
  • You may also hear splashing or roaring noise as your tires skim over the water on the road surface, and this sound can indicate that your tires are not making solid contact with the road.
  • It may be a sign of hydroplaning if you feel like you're losing control of your vehicle or it begins to skid or slide unexpectedly.
  • You may notice an abrupt increase in RPM without a corresponding increase in vehicle speed, which can occur because your tires spinning faster due to hydroplaning.

If you suspect your car is hydroplaning, remaining calm and avoiding sudden movements is crucial. First, ease off the accelerator gently and try to steer the vehicle in the direction you want to go without making any sudden or jerky movements.

Avoid slamming on the brakes, as this can cause your vehicle to skid or lose control further. Once you regain traction, gradually slow down and pull over to a safe location if necessary.

blue car driving in the rain

7 Tips to recover from hydroplaning

Quick thinking and calm action can help you recover from hydroplaning and regain vehicle control. Here's what to do if you find yourself hydroplaning:

  1. Remaining calm is crucial to avoid sudden and erratic movements that could worsen the situation.
  2. Ease off the accelerator pedal gently to slow down and reduce the risk of losing control.
  3. Avoid sudden braking, as it can result in your vehicle skidding or spinning out of control. Instead, apply gentle and steady pressure to the brakes if necessary. Vehicles with anti-lock brakes (ABS) will automatically adjust brake pressure to prevent wheel lock-up.
  4. Keep the steering wheel straight and avoid sudden movements. In case of a need to change direction, try to steer gradually without overcorrecting, as oversteering can lead to loss of control.
  5. It's important to maintain a steady and controlled driving speed to help your tires regain traction with the road surface (another reason why it’s important not to use winter tires in the summer).
  6. Look ahead and steer towards your goal. Avoid fixating on obstacles or sliding directions.
  7. As your tires regain traction, you will feel more in control. Once you feel more stable, you can gradually accelerate and continue driving cautiously.

How does hydroplaning cause accidents?

Modern road tires have grooves to enhance traction and disperse water from the tire tread. However, adverse weather conditions often overpower tire capabilities, resulting in many accidents across Canada.

Several common factors contribute to hydroplaning accidents, including the accumulation of water on the road surface, which creates hazardous puddles. Other factors include excessive speed relative to road conditions, inadequate road design and curvature, poor drainage systems, incorrect or suboptimal tire pressure, and insufficient water drainage mechanisms.

While several scenarios can trigger hydroplaning accidents, the factors mentioned above are among the most prevalent contributors. These accidents pose significant risks and can result in severe bodily harm or fatalities in the most severe cases. Although some accidents may be unavoidable, many are associated with negligent driving behaviours such as distracted driving.

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Hydroplaning FAQs

Hydroplaning can depend on car design, tire condition, driver behaviour, and road conditions. Worn-out or improperly inflated tires can increase the chances of hydroplaning. SUVs and trucks with higher centers of gravity are more susceptible. However, proper vehicle maintenance, defensive driving, and avoiding sudden maneuvers can reduce the risk of hydroplaning for any vehicle.

Hydroplaning is a term that combines two words: "hydro" meaning water, and "planing," which refers to the action of a vehicle's tires skimming over the surface of the water. This happens when a layer of water builds up between the tires and the road surface, causing the tires to float or glide over the water, similar to how a boat planes over the water. This phenomenon is commonly associated with wet road conditions and is also known as aquaplaning.

Hydroplaning can happen at various speeds depending on road conditions, tire tread depth, tire pressure, and design. However, it's more likely to occur at higher speeds, like above 50km/ph. It can also happen at lower speeds, especially if the road is water-covered or your tires are worn out.

Handling hydroplaning is as simple as slowing down in wet driving conditions

It is crucial to understand that preventive measures are the most effective way to avoid hydroplaning. In case the weather conditions are hazardous, it is advisable to pull over and wait until the situation improves before proceeding with your journey, and always ensure you have your car insurance up to date.