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Sandy Offers Up a Teachable Moment in Wet-Weather Driving

Parents are encouraged to turn Hurricane Sandy into a teachable moment for their teen drivers. From speeding and hydroplaning, to braking and flooded roadways, there’s plenty to talk about.

It’s the last week of October and we’re bracing yet again for another Halloween storm.  Sandy (hardly a treat) is predicted to bring torrential rains and hurricane-force winds that could wreck plenty of havoc as it makes landfall in New Jersey sometime within the next 24-48 hours. 

Hopefully, you’ll stay safely indoors until Sandy blows out of town.  If you absolutely must get behind the wheel, exercise extreme caution.  But keep in mind that unless you’re essential personnel (i.e., fire, police, EMS), there’s no reason for you to be on the road during a state of emergency.  Why not use this unplanned downtime to engage your teen (and all of the drivers in your house) in a discussion about driving in wet, hazardous conditions. 

You might start the discussion by addressing speed.  The rule of thumb in rain, regardless of its magnitude, is to slow down.  Wet roads mean poor traction and conditions are actually the most dangerous during the first 10 minutes of a heavy downpour as oil and debris rise up and then wash away. 

Drivers must also remember that a vehicle’s grip on the road depends upon a small area of contact -- known as the footprint -- where your vehicle’s tires meet the road surface.  The amount of water on the road coupled with your speed and the condition of your tires affect footprint traction. Driving too fast could result in hydroplaning, which is recognizable by a slight rise of the front of the car and a loss of steering.  When your car hydroplanes, the tires are literally riding on a film of water and you lose contact with the road.  So slow down at the first hint of rain even if you’re riding in a four-wheel drive vehicle. 

Ensuring that your tires are properly inflated is also essential for wet weather driving.  When driving in water just one-twelfth of an inch deep, each of your tires has to displace one gallon of water per second.  The tread on an adequately inflated tire allows water to escape improving traction and the footprint’s contact with the road.  If the pressure is low, the tread squeezes together reducing a tire’s ability to channel away water.  Low tire pressure, coupled with speed can prove deadly.  Be sure to check your tires along with the wiper blades, washer fluid and lights, essential equipment in the event of inclement weather, regularly (recommendations run from weekly to at least once a month; regularly checking tire pressure will help you save gas, too).

When it comes to braking, remember that stopping on wet and/or slippery surfaces takes longer, so increase your following distance by at least four or more car lengths (that goes for SUVs, too!).  The good news is that today’s vehicles are equipped with anti-lock brakes or ABS, so when braking apply and maintain steady pressure on the pedal.  Keep in mind that with ABS you might feel a chattering or pulse in the pedal and feel compelled to release or pump the brake.  Don’t; just hold the brake pedal down and steer.  The beauty of anti-lock brakes is that they’re designed to prevent your wheels from locking so that you can retain steering control during panic braking.  Sensors at the wheels detect lock-up, which prompts the ABS system to relieve pressure as needed allowing your wheels to
continue to turn while you maintain steering control. 

Regardless of how well-maintained and equipped your vehicle is, safety experts do not recommend driving through water (even if it appears to be shallow and you see other vehicles doing it).  That’s because water running across a roadway could be masking hazards such as debris or a washed out roadbed.  As little as six inches of rushing water carries enough force to push your vehicle off the road.
And contrary to what you might think, your vehicle is buoyant and can float in as little as two feet of water.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), flash floods are the number one weather-related killer in the U.S.  Most deaths attributed to floods occur because people try to drive through deadly waters rather than avoid them.  If you are driving and your vehicle is suddenly overtaken by water, don’t attempt to stay with your vehicle.  Try to open a door or roll down the window to get out.  If you can’t escape your vehicle safely, call 911 immediately. 

Finally, absolutely obey road closure signs and barricades. While you might think it’s okay to test your luck navigating a flooded roadway or attempting to skirt a downed power line or tree, emergency personnel shouldn’t be put at risk because you were too stubborn to heed the warning.  A road closure sign isn’t a suggestion, it’s a clear warning that the road is unsafe to travel.  So turn around!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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