What is Hydroplaning? – Causes & Everyday Prevention

If you’ve ever lost control of your vehicle while it’s raining or wet outside, you’ve likely experienced hydroplaning Hydroplaning occurs when the tires on a vehicle are lifted up above the pavement, separated by a film of water. The loss of momentary traction results in the driver unable to steer and control the vehicle. According to the US Department of Transportation, rain and wet pavement-related accidents are the leading cause of weather-related collisions in the US. Surprisingly, there are more rain-related accidents in the US than there are snow-related. In this article, we’ll discuss further on the meaning of hydroplaning, what are some causes, and how to prevent hydroplaning your vehicle.

What is hydroplaning?

What’s hydroplaning, and how does it happen? Simply put, hydroplaning is when your vehicle starts skidding over a wet surface area. This skidding happens because your tires cannot keep up with dispersing the water under your tires. Tires consist of treads or grooves that help spread and displace water on the ground. When there is too much water for the treads to handle, enough pressure builds up to elevate your car from the ground. As your car elevates, a thin film of water separates your tires from the ground. Skidding and loss of traction results as your car glides across the film. Hydroplaning can occur on any one of your vehicle’s tires. If only one or two of your tires are hydroplaning, you may still have a degree of control. However, if all four of your wheels are hydroplaning, your car is essentially an uncontrolled sled.

Factors that cause hydroplaning

What causes hydroplaning? Three main factors are working together that cause hydroplaning:

  • Wet roads: Wet roads include pools and puddles of standing water that can cause hydroplaning. The chances of hydroplaning occurring increases with larger depths of water.
  • Vehicle speed: Another important factor is your hydroplaning speed. The higher your speed, the more likely for hydroplaning to occur. Typically, your tires will start skidding at a hydroplane speed of 45-59 mph.
  • Tires: Worn or bald tires can lead to hydroplaning. An underinflated tire can also be a cause for hydroplaning on wet surfaces.

The combination of wet roads, fast speed, and poor quality tires can contribute to hydroplaning. Note that a heavy rainstorm is not the only prime time for hydroplaning to happen. In fact, the most dangerous time is right at the beginning of light rain. The oil residue mixed with light rain on the surface of the road can lead to hydroplaning.

How to avoid hydroplaning

Follow these tips to avoid hydroplaning:

  • Turn on your headlights so you can see any pools of water in front of you.
  • Ensure your tires have enough tread and are not too worn.
  • Have your tires adequately inflated before driving on the roads.
  • Drive at 35 mph or slower if it is wet outside.
  • Avoid big pools of puddles if at all possible.
  • Make sure cruise control is off. If you hydroplane, cruise control may cause your vehicle to spin its tires faster, making it harder to control.
  • Follow the tire tracks of cars in front of you.
  • Avoid sudden braking or sharp turns.
  • Try to avoid driving on the outer lanes, as water tends to pool outwards.

Potential consequences of hydroplaning

Hydroplaning can result in serious consequences. Over the span of ten years, there was an annual average of 860,286 hydroplane car accidents due to wet pavements in the US. Of these crashes, 324,394 accidents resulted in injuries, while 4,050 accidents resulted in fatalities. Hydroplaning is especially dangerous if you mix in other weather-related hazards. Limited visibility due to fog or rain can hamper your ability to avoid large collections of water on the roads.  Apart from colliding with other cars, potential consequences of hydroplaning include losing momentary control of the car, spinning out on the road, landing in a ditch, or even a vehicle rollover.

What to do if you hydroplane

Below are the steps to take if you find yourself hydroplaning:

  1. Release the acceleration pedal: Resist the urge to slam on the brakes. Slamming on brakes while you are hydroplaning can cause you to completely lose control of the vehicle. Simply release the acceleration pedal to slow your spinning wheels.
  2. Maneuver steering wheel: While it may be unintuitive, steer your wheel in the direction of where you’re skidding towards. Make gentle steering corrections, which will better help you regain control.
  3. Wait for traction: Eventually, as your vehicle slows down, you’ll feel your car gain traction once again. 
  4. Slow down and pull over if required: Once you’ve assumed control of the vehicle, you can gently use the brakes to slow down. Pullover if necessary to recover and calm down.

Valiente Mott

Hydroplaning can occur to anyone, no matter how cautious you may be. If you were involved in a hydroplaning accident and sustained injuries as a result, we can help. Our Las Vegas personal injury attorney team specializes in all matters related to personal injury, no matter how serious the accident. We provide expert legal advice so you can make the best out of a challenging situation. Contact us today for your free consultation!

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