Driving in the wet and rain

Pouring rain and wet surfaces can present a host of driving hazards. We look at how to stay safe in wet weather.

Pouring rain and wet surfaces can present a host of driving hazards. We look at how to stay safe in wet weather.

Daniel Hutson
Motor insurance expert
minute read
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Why rain and wet cause accidents

Rain and wet roads make it harder for tyres to grip. Not only that, but rain can cause huge problems with visibility. As well as the rain itself, you also have spray from other vehicles to contend with.

Climate change means that the UK is getting wetter, with wet weather continuing for longer and the amount of rainfall increasing significantly. According to the Met Office, 2020 was the fifth-wettest year on record.

This makes conditions dangerous for drivers: according to government figures, people are 30 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured on the roads in rain than in snow. One reason for this is that people don’t adapt their driving to the conditions when it’s wet.

And British weather is nothing if not unpredictable – in June 2021, South East England experienced double the average rainfall. That means, to stay safe, you’ll need to know how to drive in wet weather all year round. Here are a few tips:

Check your windscreen  

A greasy windscreen makes it even more difficult to see in rainy conditions. Make sure yours is clean before you set out, and check that your windscreen wipers are working properly, replacing the blades or screenwash if necessary.

Check your tyres

Very wet weather can cause what’s called ‘hydroplaning’ or ‘aquaplaning’. This is when a layer of water builds up between your tyres and the road, which can cause you to lose control of the car.

If you can’t seem to steer your car, slowly take your foot off the accelerator – rather than braking – to slow down. This will allow your tyres to get a better hold.

To prevent hydroplaning happening in the first place, make sure your tyres are in good shape before you take to the road. If they’re worn, they’ll have less grip.

Switch on your headlights

Visibility may be poor even in daytime, so make sure other drivers can see you. Some people recommend always switching the headlights on if you’re using the windscreen wipers.

Fill up on petrol

Traffic is often much worse in rainy weather, which means you’ll end up using more fuel. Filling up in advance will save you having to pull over in the pouring rain.  

Turn on your air conditioning

This can stop your windscreen fogging up in the rain. Car windows mist up when the cold windscreen comes into contact with warm, damp air. Opening the windows will also help de-mist your screen, although some people swear by cleaning it with shaving foam…

Understand stopping distances

Your car’s stopping distance in the rain is longer than it is in dry weather. The stopping distance is how far the car will travel once you spot a hazard, put on the brakes, and come to a full stop.

If the road is wet, your car will have a longer braking distance. This is how far your car will travel as you’re applying the brakes. A wet road could double your braking distance.

If it’s raining, you may have trouble seeing the road ahead. This increases the amount of thinking distance you’ll need. Thinking distance is how far your car travels before you can react to a hazard and slow down.

Keep your distance

Highways England says that even driving within the speed limit in wet weather can be dangerous if you don’t leave extra space between you and the vehicle in front.

Braking could take double the amount of time than it normally would, so stay well back. If you’re tailing a bus or lorry, leave an even bigger distance, otherwise you could be dealing with serious splash and spray.

Slow down 

Remember the effect of rain on braking distance and make sure you’re driving well within the speed limit. Reducing your speed will also allow your tyres to grip the road better.

Beware of deep puddles

Driving through deep patches of water could cause aquaplaning or cause your car to break down. There could also be concealed hazards. If you have to drive through a deep puddle, go very slowly.

How to drive through flood water

Did you know that driving through flood water is the leading cause of death in a flood? That’s why you shouldn’t do it. And be wary of fast-moving water – you can be swept away more easily than you think. It only takes 30cm of water to make a car float.

Even if the water looks shallow and calm to your eye, it’s worth remembering that flood water is usually contaminated. It can also do serious damage to your car’s electrics. It doesn’t take much water to destroy your engine, either – just an egg cupful.

If you do find your car breaks down and you get stuck, don’t get out of the car. Stay where you are and call for help – providing that your vehicle is parked safely.

Frequently asked questions

Does my car insurance cover flood damage?

With heavy rain and floods making the news in recent months, you may be wondering if your car insurance covers you for flood damage. If yours is fully comprehensive, then you should be OK, but if yours is a third-party fire and theft policy, you may want to think about extending it.

Can driving in the rain ruin my car?

If rainwater gets into your car engine, it can wreck it. So, if you break down in bad weather, never leave the bonnet open. Instead, get back in the car and phone for help.

Is it illegal to splash pedestrians when driving in rain?

We all know that drivers speeding through puddles are annoying, but did you know they’re also breaking the law? Drivers who deliberately splash pedestrians are guilty of careless and inconsiderate driving, which is an offence under the Road Traffic Act of 1988.

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