Driving in the rain

The rains are almost upon us and indications from our Meteorological Services Department are that we are going to have normal to above normal rainfall in most parts of the country this season.
In spite of the rains, people will continue to require the use of vehicles for various reasons. In my previous article, I shared some general tips and guidelines for driving in rainy conditions. I would like to share more practical driving tips for driving in the rain. Let me begin by appealing to drivers to be extra courteous and cautious when driving in the rain. In order to do that, drivers must observe the following:

  • Be twice as considerate to two wheelers (cyclists and motorcyclists). These are more vulnerable road users than drivers of vehicles. They are not only completely exposed in the rain, but also do not have the same braking or grip levels as your car. Do not follow bikes too closely. Bikes are prone to slip or fall and keeping a distance will enable you not to run over them in the event of a slip.
  • The same applies for pedestrians. It is very rude to splash water on pedestrians on the pavements or sidewalk. Also, bear in mind that in rainy conditions, pedestrians are extremely hard to spot.
  • Don’t park anywhere on the road or close to where other cars would pass you. Poor visibility could result in another car crashing into yours. The best place to park would be off a street or road and at a level higher than the road. If you are parking for a short time switch your parking and hazard lights on.
  • Plan your trip such that you reach your destination before dawn. More information on safe trip scheduling is given in the Defensive Driving Course that is offered by the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe.

Tyre hydroplaning
Drivers must be aware of tyre hydroplaning. This is a situation that occurs when your vehicle tyres travel on top of a thin film of water and has no or very little contact with the ground. The grip of the tyres or traction is reduced significantly. To safely overcome a hydroplaning situation, ease up the accelerator pedal and steer straight or slightly in the direction you must go. Also, remain calm and do not make sudden motions.

Above all, slow down. I am sure reducing speed is the simplest thing that a driver can do. In this respect, engine braking has certain advantages on slippery roads. However, the engine braking must be complemented with your regular braking so that your brake lights will let the driver of the car behind know your intentions.

Handling a Skid
Losing control of your car on wet pavement can be a frightening experience. Nevertheless, you can prevent skids by driving slowly and carefully, especially on curves. Brake before entering the curves. Steer and brake with a light touch. If you find yourself in a skid, remain composed, ease your foot off the accelerator pedal, and carefully steer in the direction you want the front of the car to go. This procedure is known as ‘‘steering into the skid’.’ It will ensure that the back end of your car is brought back in line with the front. For cars without anti-lock brakes, avoid using your brakes. If your car has the Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), brake firmly as you ‘‘steer into the skid’’.
Oily deposits, especially at intersections, can be hazardous.

Rain is most dangerous when it falls after a long, dry spell on to roads that have become polished and smooth. The reason is that the rain blends with oil, rubber and dust deposits on the road surface to form a highly dangerous skid mixture. The mixture builds up at intersections, where cars stop and start frequently. Therefore, be extra careful when approaching such intersections after it has rained because it takes a while for the worst of the dirt and oil to get washed off the road.

Driving in heavy rain
Heavy rain can overload the wiper blades, allowing an almost continuous sheet of water to flow over the screen. Visibility can be so limited that the edges of the road or other road users cannot be seen at a safe distance. When this happens, pull over and wait for the rain to ease. It is recommended that you stop and rest at safe area.

Driving through water
Where water has flooded the road, drive very slowly and cautiously. Never drive through moving water if you can’t see the ground through it. Your car could be swept off the road. Therefore, always stop the car before entering the flooded area and check the water level ahead. As a general guide, if the water is deeper than the bottom of your car or the bottom third of your wheels, it is not advisable to drive through it. Find an alternative route rather than braving the flood which might damage the electronic control system of the car or endanger your life.
If you successfully pass through a deep water hazard, test your brakes.

The festive season
The festive season is around the corner. According to ZRP National Traffic, 142 people died during the 2011 and 2012 festive period that is between December 15, 2011 and January 15, 2012. During the same period this last festive season (December 15, 2012 to January 15, 2013), 260 deaths were recorded. This is very sad. It is my prayer that the forthcoming festive period would see a significant reduction of road carnage in Zimbabwe as drivers follow some of the tips and hints stated above.

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