4 Ways to Stay Safe Around a Flooded Road

When rains swell rivers and streams, these tips may help you stay safe and dry.

April showers might bring May flowers, but they also trigger hazards on the road. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that 620,000 crashes across the country occurred in rainy conditions in 2009, the most recent year for which annual data has been published.

“This represents millions of dollars in damage that could be avoided,” says auto expert Dean Fisher, owner of CARSTAR, a leading auto body repair company. “Just by slowing down and being more cautious, drivers can dramatically reduce their chances of being in a costly wreck.”

Fisher offered the following guidelines to help drivers safely navigate wet weather and flooded roads:

  1. Create a pre-drive checklist. Take time to check your vehicle in dry weather. Replace old, brittle wiper blades and make sure light bulbs are working properly. Keep your headlights on at all times while you’re driving in the rain, regardless of how well you can see. “Anytime you use your wipers, you need to have your headlights on,” Fisher says. “It helps you see better in rainy, foggy or overcast conditions, and allows other drivers to see you.”
  2. Drive cautiously. Keep more than the standard “3-second” distance between you and the vehicle ahead and try to steer in the existing tire tracks to maximize traction in wet conditions. Also, avoid using cruise control, because it reduces the amount of control you have over the vehicle. “Stay in the middle lanes because water tends to pool on the outside,” Fisher says. “When you need to stop or slow, avoid a skid by braking lightly and not locking the wheels. Maintain mild pressure on the brake pedal. Or, if possible, take your foot off the accelerator to slow down.”
  3. Avoid low-lying areas. Don’t drive on a road if you can’t see the ground through the water. Be extra careful in areas where floodwaters tend to rise. “This includes low-lying roads adjacent to streams,” Fisher says, “and those that dip under rail or highway bridges.” Avoiding deep water isn’t simply the safe thing to do—it’s a way to keep your vehicle in tip-top shape. “Flooded conditions can damage an automobile electrical system and leave all kinds of dirt, rust and mildew deposits,” Fisher says.
  4. Hydroplaning hints. Hydroplaning happens when water in front of the tires builds up faster than the vehicle’s weight can push it aside, prompting a complete loss of traction and control. Factors such as speed and tire tread depth play a part, so reduce your speed in wet weather, and check the condition of your tires throughout the year. If you still find yourself hydroplaning, don’t panic. “Don’t brake or turn suddenly,” Fisher says. “Instead, ease your foot off the gas until the vehicle slows and you can feel traction again. If you skid, turn the steering wheel in the direction of the skid to recover control, then gently straighten the wheel.”

For more information about preparing for evacuation and navigating flooded areas, download this checklist.

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