Safe Driving During Extreme Weather

Severe weather events are on the rise in Ontario. The most recent flash flooding in the province led to passengers being forced to swim out of a streetcar in downtown Toronto and some drivers abandoning their vehicles on flooded roadways. These stories bring up some important questions about safe driving, especially during extreme weather. While it’s not ideal to be out driving at all during flash floods or thunderstorms – especially if you are a high-risk or inexperienced driver – it’s sometimes unavoidable.

If you find yourself in this position, you may face vehicle damage, an increased risk of an accident – or worse. With that in mind, here are some tips for reducing your risk of incident during heavy rain or flooding.

Avoid Driving in Extreme Conditions

The best advice for driving in extreme conditions is to avoid it altogether. When the forecast calls for extreme weather, plan to stay home or return before the severe weather hits. If you get caught in bad weather during your drive. Pull over to a safe place and try to wait for better conditions.

However, even with the best planning, you can sometimes find yourself in a sudden bout of bad weather. If this happens, consider these tips:

Driving in heavy rain

From slick pavement and bad visibility or hydroplaning, driving in heavy rain comes with major risks. If you do find yourself in this situation, reduce your speed. This will make the treacherous conditions easier to navigate and will give you more reaction time in case of emergency. Reaction time is critical when roads can become a quick target for unexpected hazards. Common hazards during severe weather flash flooding, objects on the road, downed traffic lights and other vehicles that have lost control.

Particularly in the summer, grease and oil build up on pavement can lead to extra slippery conditions. And, with a sudden rainfall, the road surface can become even more slippery. This is just another reason to drive slowly and stay alert.

Another common problem with wet conditions is hydroplaning, which happens when your wheels glide on top of the water, reducing traction. If this happens, stay relaxed, take your foot off the gas and steer in the direction you want to go.

When you’re driving in the rain, you’ll need to leave more time and distance when braking and be softer about applying pressure to the pedal. This lessens the chance of hydroplaning or losing control in slick conditions. When you’re following other vehicles, leave as many as five seconds between you and the next car if possible. It’s also a good idea to avoid driving near buses or large commercial vehicles.

Above all else, be slow, deliberate and make sure to leave extra time when you’re driving in heavy rain. Being late for an appointment isn’t the end of the world and your safety is a much higher priority.

Sometimes rain is accompanied by dark clouds or overcast skies, which can cause visibility problems. In addition to poor visibility, heavy storms often bring strong winds and strong winds can make steering more challenging.

If at any time, you are concerned about handling your vehicle, pull over to a safe location and wait it out. It’s always better to be safe than sorry in extreme weather.

As you approach a flooded section of road:

First, take extreme caution. If you can avoid crossing a portion of roadway that looks to be flooded, do so. A major problem with flooding is that it can be hard to calculate exactly how deep the water is, and what the condition of the road underneath may be. During heavy rain, it’s not uncommon for the entire surface of a road to wash away. Even if the pavement remains solid, a mere six inches of water can cause your vehicle to stall, while just a foot can cause it to float.

If you’re approaching a section that looks flooded, slow down. Driving at high speeds can cause even more complications in extreme weather and if you drive fast enough to create even a small wave of water, there’s a chance it could get sucked into your engine, stalling the car. Try to get a sense of the water’s depth and don’t drive through anything if you have doubts. Watching how other vehicles manage can also be a good way of gauging how deep the water is.

Driving during a thunderstorm

Like crossing a flooded section, driving through a thunderstorm is not recommended. Being enclosed in a metal car can have some advantages, as a lightning current is likely to flow around the frame of your car and into the ground, but this is not entirely foolproof. For example, you might have a car made from fiberglass or one with a soft-top, both of which will increase the chance of damage in the event of a lightning strike.

You’re also likely to be dealing with decreased visibility and heavy rains, so overall it’s not an ideal driving condition. The best way to handle a freak thunderstorm is to pull over and wait it out. Turn on your hazard lights so other drivers can see you.

Despite being ensconced in your vehicle, lightning current can still flow through your car’s electrical system or through metal fastenings inside, including door handles and pedals. While you’re waiting out a storm, avoid touching anything metal inside your car, including your phone. Once the storm has cleared you can start driving again.

The main rule of thumb for driving during storm conditions is that you shouldn’t. This is especially key if you are an inexperienced driver or have a high-risk designation. Not only is your risk of injury higher but, having vehicle damage or getting into an accident could increase your insurance rates and have drastic consequences on your driving record.

The bottom line: play it safe and wait until the sun’s out.

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