South African drivers are like medicine: keep in a cool, dry place. Too hot and especially too wet and we go strange. A bit of rain and Solid Susan turns into Maniac Megan and Dependable Dan into Clueless Clive.
So when it rains, make sure you can see them and they can see you. A split second of either these not happening can totally ruin your day.
Make sure your wipers are still good. Worn wiper blades will turn the road ahead into a smear.
Give yourself an extra five minutes before setting off to make sure your car windows are defogged. Give your rear window a couple of minutes. A dash of aircon will speed up your windscreen demister. Keep an old towel in your car for side windows and side mirrors if not heated. A couple of minutes are better than that moment of foggy blind spot that makes you miss the idiot driving without lights.
Beware of the surprising number of people who forget to switch on their lights. Try and see past the car in front of you – if you see sudden brake lights or oncoming headlights swerving, be prepared.
Turn on your lights, even if it’s daylight. This will make you more visible to everybody, especially that oke who did not demist his windows. Visibility might be good, but then you hit a puddle and spray surrounds you and you cannot see or be seen.
Speaking of well-lit, when you think you need to use your lights, use your lights. Not your parking lights. The argument that it is just a bit dark so I only need a bit of light is wrong. Low visibility means low contrast, so your dim parking lights will be even less visible than at no visibility.
Wet roads cause some moisture between your tires and the road. The minimum legal tyre tread depth is 1.6mm. That is like accepting the minimum matric pass rate for your child. A study by Uniroyal found that a car with 1.6mm tread took almost 50% more distance to stop than a similar car with new 8mm tread.
There are two ways to maximise the useful lifespan of your tires. Check the pressure regularly and make sure they are pumped to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Underinflation not only affects handling and uses more fuel, but it can also reduce your tread life by 25%. Overinflation can cause handling problems, and it reduces the tire area in contact with the road, which you don’t want in the wet.
Aquaplaning is where your wheels totally lose contact with the road and are skiing on a layer of water. Your car is not a boat, so aquaplaning is generally not a good thing. If you do plane, keep calm, don’t brake hard, keep a grip on the wheel and don’t try and make sudden turns. Some say you should turn your wheels in the direction the car is going, but unless you have special training, you probably should not get too clever.
It is better to try and avoid aquaplaning. Make sure your tires have sufficient tread. If there are temporary speed limits, stick to them, but generally drive slower than you would on a wet road. If your car has cruise control, don’t use it. Avoid areas with excessive flooding and be careful when you can see water puddling or flow on the road.
Your car will take longer to stop in the wet, so increase your following distance and ease up to stop streets and traffic lights.
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