hydroplaningEver driven on a wet road and spun out, or seen another car spin out? It’s likely you just witnessed a car hydroplaning. Hydroplaning occurs when a car slides on a thin layer of water located between the tires and the pavement, at least in the context of this article.

Quicknote: hydroplaning is also used to describe the way that DJ’s apply slight pressure to a spinning record in order dos low it down without stopping it or creating a real scratch. The term also refers to a difference in friction, but this time it occurs between the DJ’s fingers and a record. The result is a bass-y, friction-y sound that many DJ’s call “rubber”. But that’s another matter.

So say you’re driving on a wet road and suddenly you realize that your tires are slipping instead of rolling. Don’t worry, the situation is manageable provided you don’t freak out too much. Just hold the steering wheel firm and don’t oversteer, slam on the brakes, or make any sudden movements at all except to take your foot off the gas.

Point straight ahead, or steer just enough to keep the car driving forward/away from any oncoming obstructions or cars. Your car’s tires should regain traction momentarily.

It can help if, before the situation occurs, you see if your vehicle has something called anti-lock brakes. You can ask your mechanic, or just check in your owner’s manual. You could also probably google your car’s model and year and anti-lock brakes? and see what it says.

Now say you don’t have a anti-lock brakes and you hydroplane and you are close to an obstruction or vehicle, and you’re heading straight towards it. Pump your breaks lightly and rapidly until you gain traction.

dynamic hydroplaningIf you do have anti-lock brakes, you can brake in a normal fashion during a hydroplaning incident; just don’t brake too hard. The vehicle’s computer will then mimic the pumping action for you. So long as your vehicle’s tires have some kind of contact with the road, you should begin to slow and regain control.

One quick note; if your car has cruise control capabilities (most do), be sure to not use them if you’re driving in a rainstorm. Some have said that a vehicle that’s hydroplaning while in cruise control mode will actually accelerate, which is of course, extremely dangerous. The logic behind the assertion is that cruise control requires that you hit the brakes to disarm it, but you’re not supposed to immediately hit the brakes while hydroplaning. That said, experts have yet to come up with a case in which an accident was caused by cruise-control-affected hydroplaning.

Cautious drivers will be happy to hear that hydroplaning is much less common than it once was, mostly due to the way that highway engineers have compensated for its risks. Material choices, building specifications and cross slope engineering (building highways so that they travel in the direction perpendicular to that of the main slope) makes it possible for water to drain from highways more effectively.

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