Driving in the rain is like jaywalking — it’s not the safest thing in the world, but millions of people do it without incident, and most folks don’t give it too much thought.
If you live in a busy city like Chicago, you should be more cautious when it’s raining due to the amount of drivers on the road. It never hurts to remember the basics.
1. Take care of your car and its tires. Every vehicle talks to the road through four small patches of rubber. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving a Ferrari, an all-wheel-drive Audi, or an asthmatic garbage truck — if the tires aren’t happy, the car isn’t happy. Handling, braking, and acceleration are all directly tied to how well your rubber grips the road. On top of that, what seems like a minor irritation (a bit of squealing, a slight wandering at speed) on dry pavement can often be downright homicidal in the wet. Neglect your tires, and you neglect the one part of your car most responsible for your safety.
2. Slow down. Speed is a wonderful thing, and in most cases, we’re all for it. But when you’re in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the beltway and can’t see more than a few cars in front of you, you need all the reaction time you can get. It may sound obvious, but the slower you go, the easier it is to stop or swerve in order to avoid an accident.
3. If you lose control, don’t do anything sudden. When your car begins to slide, it’s best to remember one thing: It will eventually stop. (If you’re lucky, that moment will come before you end up in a tree.) In the interim, you need to do everything you can to preserve your tires’ hold on the pavement. Gently ease off the accelerator and refrain from slamming on the brakes. If the car is sliding in a corner, steer into the slide and keep your eyes pointed where you want to go. If you’re hydroplaning, resist the urge to yank on the wheel or throw the car into another lane. Above all, remember this: When your tires are struggling to hold onto the road, the slightest provocation can upset them. Keep them happy. No surprises.
4. If you can avoid it, never drive into a flooded area. This may sound obvious, but a surprising number of people lose their cars — and often their lives — every year by driving into or across waterlogged pavement. Currents can run remarkably strong on a flooded road, and what looks like a foot-deep stream can often suck you and your car off to a watery grave.
5. Calm down. This piece of advice might not apply to everyone, but it’s still worth keeping in mind. The human body’s fight-or-flight process is pretty remarkable, but when you’re busy behind the wheel, the last thing you need is an elevated heart rate and twitchy reactions. Breathe deep. Look as far ahead as possible. Try not to get excited or nervous. The more control you have over your body, the more control you have over your car.
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