Speed limits exist to tell you how safe it is to drive under good conditions. When conditions are bad and roads are wet, speed limits are worthless. Drive well under them -- and the worse the conditions, the lower the speed you should drive.
The worst danger of driving too fast in rain is hydroplaning. No, hydroplaning isn't something you do when you're flying off on a fishing expedition in a Cessna that's equipped with pontoons. Hydroplaning is what happens when your car thinks it's a boat while it's still on the highway.
Usually your tires can slice their way through the water in front of them and keep in contact with the surface of the road. But when the road is wet and you're going too fast, your car can actually begin to float on top of the water and the tire tread loses contact with the road surface. This is bad. Boy, is this bad! When your tread loses contact with the road surface, you can no longer steer. You can no longer brake. This is what happens when you hydroplane. And you often don't know that you're hydroplaning until you hit the brakes and the car goes skidding out of control. Therefore it's better not to travel at hydroplane speeds to begin with.
What do you do if you realize you're hydroplaning and are already out of control? First off, don't panic (though, trust us, you'll be tempted to). Don't hit the brakes, because that just makes it worse. Let up on the accelerator so that any remaining traction can slow your speed. And drive straight. Don't try to turn. If the car is veering off in a direction you don't want to go, don't fight it; just follow your wheels. And as the car slows, suddenly (almost magically), you'll be back under control.
At this point we recommend getting off the road and giving yourself time for your heart rate to slow back down. You'll need it.
Author's Note: 5 Completely Wrong Ways to Drive in the Rain
When I was 17 years old (a lot longer ago than I'd care to admit), I had my first car accident. It was, yes, on a dark and rainy night. Worse, it was on a winding country road. I turned a corner and there was a long line of cars stopped at a traffic light. I slammed on the brakes and nothing happened. I just kept moving, right into the rear of the car at the end of the line. The hood of my Ford Mustang crumpled like an origami swan. This was my introduction to hydroplaning.
Fortunately, no one was hurt, though the woman and her two kids in the car I'd hit were a bit shaken up. So was the guy riding in my passenger seat. And so was the fellow driving the car behind me. (I knew him. He was my high school drama teacher. We were on our way to put on a production of "Our Town" at a local old-folk's home.)
So this article was written from the heart, the one that's still beating because I had fortunately just started to slow down before the accident happened. If I hadn't slowed down -- well, I hope the writer who got this assignment would have enjoyed it as much as I did.
It's a pity I hadn't read my own article before I went out in the rain that night. Or some of these articles:
- DeAnza College. "Safe Driving in Rain and Fog." (March 19, 2012) http://faculty.deanza.edu/donahuemary/stories/storyReader$270
- Kim, Liz. "Tips and Techniques for Driving in Rain." Edmunds.com. (March 19, 2012) http://www.edmunds.com/car-safety/tips-and-techniques-for-driving-in-rain.html
- Smart Motorist. "Tips for Driving in Rain." (March 19, 2012) http://www.smartmotorist.com/driving-guideline/tips-for-driving-in-rain.html
- Texas.gov. "Driving in the Rain." (March 19, 2012) http://www.tdi.texas.gov/pubs/videoresource/t5driverain.pdf
If you're test-driving a car from a dealership and an accident occurs, who's on the hook: you or your dealership? HowStuffWorks finds out.