Hydroplaning is no joke. It’s a scary phenomenon in which a car’s front tires actually leave the road as water creates a thin layer between road and rubber. When this happens, drivers may lose control of their automobiles, putting themselves and others at risk for serious accidents.

Here’s what every driver should know.

Why do cars hydroplane?

The most common cause of hydroplaning is speeding on a wet road, usually during the early part of a rainstorm. When a car drives at high speeds through more water than its tires can displace, it can end up hydroplaning. That’s because water underneath your tires can actually lift your tires up from the pavement. And driving during the first ten minutes of a rainstorm can be particularly dangerous, with engine oils and grease on the pavement, which increases the likelihood of hydroplaning.

How do I avoid hydroplaning?

  • Don’t use cruise control in the rain. If it starts to rain while you’re using cruise control, turn it off. And slow down.
  • Avoid sharp turns on wet pavement. Sudden movements on slick or moist pavement can cause hydroplaning. Stay in your lane if possible, and try to avoid passing other cars or switching lanes.
  • Avoid puddles and standing water. If you can do so safely, slowly maneuver around puddles or other standing water.
  • Keep off painted road lines. The painted areas of roadways can be slicker than regular pavement, so try to avoid driving on these.
  • Drive in the path of other tire tracks. Whenever possible, drive in the tire tracks left behind by other vehicles. When you do this, you’re more likely to be driving in an area where water has already been displaced, which allows your tires to make better contact with the road.
  • Slow down! When driving in a rainstorm, always reduce your speed. It’s much harder to control your vehicle during a high-speed spin out than one that occurs at a low speed. So, try to drive 35 MPH or slower.
  • Take care of your tires. Tires that have been properly maintained stand a better chance of helping you avoid an accident during a rainstorm. So be sure to keep tires properly inflated, rotated, and realigned, and be sure to track your tread. Tires with deeper treads do a better job of channeling water, creating better friction with the road.
  • Pull over. If you don’t feel like you can safely navigate in rain, it’s okay to pull over (as long as you can do so safely). Use your turn signals and emergency lights and head to a safe spot like a parking lot where you can either wait out the heaviest rain or gather yourself before getting back out there.

What if I start to hydroplane anyway?

  • Don’t slam on the brakes. If you find yourself hydroplaning or in a spin, resist the urge to hit the brakes. Hitting the brakes too hard can cause your tires to lose even more traction.
  • Stay calm and steer. Ease your foot off the gas and try to correct your spin by steering in the direction of the spin. For example, if your car is veering to the right, mirror that movement and steer to the right. As the car begins to straighten out and you’re facing the correct way, try to safely maneuver the car to the side of the road.

Check out more tips for driving in the rain.

Safe and smart | Car safety

about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.