Driving in wet weather is a fact of life in the UK, but it still catches out many motorists.
Getting from A to B in damp conditions isn't just about how you drive, but whether your car is well maintained.
Department for Transport figures show that dangerous tyres are the largest single contributory factor in accidents resulting from vehicle defects - including brakes.
In particular, tyre tread depth has a decisive impact on the distance a car takes to stop in the wet.
What you need to know about winter tyres
Current UK law requires motorists to have at least 1.6mm of tread on their tyres across the central three quarters of the tyre around its entire circumference. Those found to be in breach of this law can face fines of up to £2,500 and three penalty points per tyre.
So for example, four bald tyres on the same vehicle could place you at risk of 12 points, which means you could be disqualified from driving.
Studies have shown that the braking distance of a vehicle with tyre tread of 1.6mm is nearly 12 metres further than a vehicle with new tyres when braking in the wet from 50mph.
Yet recent research by Tyresafe highlighted that 27% of tyres were already illegal when they were replaced, one in five drivers have never checked their tyres and the majority of the remaining vehicle owners do not do so on a regular basis.
Richard Gladman of road safety charity IAM RoadSmart (Institute of Advanced Motorists) has these tips to help you stay safe on the roads when it's wet:
- Be sure to check your local weather forecast beforehand so you can plan your journey accordingly. If heavy downpours are expected, avoid starting your journey until it clears. And if you have no choice but to travel, use main roads where possible which are less likely to get flooded.
- Don’t forget to check your windscreen wiper blades and lights are working properly. You’ll need to use your dipped headlights if visibility is significantly reduced, so give them a check too.
- Roads will be more slippery than usual in wet weather – be sure to give yourself more time to react when approaching a hazard. Increase your following gap to at least four seconds from the moving traffic in front.
- Keep your eyes peeled on the road at all times as spray from other vehicles can suddenly reduce your visibility. Remember it affects others too, so anticipate their actions and be prepared.
“If your tyres begin to lose traction, ease off the accelerator, avoid braking and allow the speed to naturally decrease until you have full control of your car again," added Richard.
“Driving in wet weather can be challenging, and with delays and increased concentration needed it can be more tiring too. By allowing increased time to stop and extending your following distance you can remain safe.”
Winter driving: Help your car cope
Many rain-related car breakdowns are easily avoidable as they are often caused by people driving through deep standing water.
Unless you’re driving a 4x4 with a decent wade depth, driving through floods is not recommended and it can lead to catastrophic engine failure.
While cars have improved significantly in technical terms in recent years they are still not waterproof and will break down if they are driven through deep water.
The RAC has these extra tips for driving through flooded areas:
- If you do go through water, drive on the highest section of the road
- Drive steadily and slowly so as not to create a bow wave in front of the vehicle and allow oncoming traffic to pass first - make sure you have a clear route ahead so you do not have to stop in standing water
- Driving at speed may be dangerous to other vehicles or pedestrians and could cause loss of control
- Never attempt to drive through fast flowing water - you could easily get swept away
- Test your brakes after leaving flood water
- If your engine cuts out after driving through deep water, do not attempt to restart as engine damage may occur – instead call for assistance and have the vehicle professionally examined.
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