Here in Florida as well as most other places, summer means storms in the afternoon. The air over the cooler ocean moves inland, hits the warm/hot air over the land, magic happens and we have some wicked thunderstorms that then move back to the ocean. Lightning and momentarily torrential rains are abundant, coupled with high winds, tornados and even hail.
On the race track, we like the rain – it’s a great equalizer. When pitted against more powerful (faster) cars, the handling of our Porsches tends to shine and the faster cars spin their rear tires in the wet – and they just don’t work. We love to race in the rain.
On the street, though, rain is a big problem. Sure, we have good wet handling and good wet brakes, but the other drivers out there with their lane warnings and antilock brakes and chrome-moly wiper blades can do almost anything that can put you and your precious car in danger. So caution is required.
The most common rain-related crashes are 1) rear end collisions and 2) sliding-through-the-intersection collisions. Both occur because the offending driver is going to fast for conditions, fails to slow and stop in time, and either hits other cars or slides into the intersection where others are trying to drive safely. So how do you keep yourself out of the way of these errant drivers?
While driving in any conditions, compensating for other drivers’ mistakes is the most important thing to remember. Speed, spacing and a dose of undue caution are always good to keep in mind. Remember that crashes occur in “feet per second,” not “miles per hour.” Keeping your distance from the moron on the road is good thinking, and realizing that you don’t have the “right of way” until someone gives it to you is also handy. You may be legally right and it was the other guy’s fault, but you were still in a crash, your car got damaged, and maybe you got hurt. The fact that it wasn’t your fault is immaterial.
So let’s look at the first type of rain-related crash – you get hit in the rear.
You’re driving along a road, whether it be in town, on the highway or some country road. Stopping distances are increased because of the slick pavement, so someone behind you is going to need more space to slow and stop when you slow and stop. That means that you have to maintain 360 degrees of view, especially your rear-view mirror. As you are slowing, check the rear-view for the moron who isn’t paying attention, and at the same time assess the area in front of you for an escape route. You need to make an instant decision when you realize that, well, he’s not stopping! Can you pull to the right off the road? Can you change lanes? Or are you trapped in your lane with no where to go? As the car behind is closing in on you, you need to take some action. Remember too that putting your car in a ditch is likely much more desirable than getting hit by a pickup truck at 60 mph.
In an especially heavy rainstorm on Interstate 4 near DeLand one afternoon, I was driving along in the far left lane passing a rather slow-moving flatbed semi truck. As I got to the rear wheels, the trucker started to change lanes. There wasn’t anything I could do as there was another pickup truck right behind me. So I eased my F150 into the shoulder, then the median, and he kept coming. Finally I was all the way into the grass median, deep and filled with rain water, and headed for oncoming traffic. So I decided to put the truck sideways, and if it rolled, that was better than going head-on into 70 mph oncoming traffic. As it turned out, the truck lifted the left wheels off the ground as it tried to roll over, but it regained its footing and I slid to a stop, sideways in the median with my front bumper on the edge of the oncoming traffic lanes. I aged a little that day, but everyone was safe. There was no thinking about rolling the truck – it was an alternative that was there when I needed it. And I doubt that the flatbed trucker ever even realized I was there.
Second – Someone slides through an intersection against a stop sign or red light.
In this case, the offending driver hit the brakes too late due to inattention, distraction, unfamiliarity with the roadway or the area, or didn’t realize that the brakes would not stop him or her in the space that was allotted. In any case, you get hit in the side.
They call it a T-BONE if you get hit in the doors. If the offender hits you in the front fender, the impact will likely redirect you car diagonally and you may hit oncoming traffic (hit on the right) or off the road on the right if the hit is on the left. If the offender hits you in the rear fender, the car may spin and go anywhere.
These crashes most often occur as the light is changing – the driver didn’t realize the light was changing or did realize it and tried to get through on the yellow. Makes no difference – you get hit and probably hit something else. These crashes also tend to create more injuries to all parties involved. Being hit in the side, you can count on back and neck injuries, and possibly a head injury from hitting the door window or something else in the car. None of this is fun.
So what to do? The green light turning on is not on the Christmas Tree at the drag strip. As the light is changing, check to ensure that the idiot distracted driver is actually slowing down. You can’t determine this with a glance – you have to purposely look at traffic to determine their relative speed. So start looking at traffic before the light changes.. The same is true for stop signs – don’t assume that the other driver is going to stop. Assess before you get there. Then pause a half-second to be sure before entering the intersection.
Also remember that YOU may be the one making the mistake at an intersection. Just because the light is red doesn’t mean that you should check your email or send that text.
Wow. This sounds like a lot of work. Does anyone even do this stuff?
It looks like a lot of work, but it’s not. You can incorporate these into your vast skill set that is driving on the roads. Not easy, but worth it.
Here are a few more tips:
- If there is a car on a side street that is looking as if it might pull out into your path, we all talk to it…”Don’t you do it!” That doesn’t work. However, an old motorcycle rider’s trick is to notice the front wheel as you approach. Drivers tend to crank the wheel a little as they move their brake foot to towards the gas pedal. Take a look – you do it. So if you can notice that the front wheel is cranking over, he or she is probably moving to the gas pedal. Forewarned is Forearmed.
- As a car is entering the highway from an on-ramp, you can tell if you are going to end up in front of it or behind it using an old boater’s trick. Watch the car in the on-ramp in relation to your car, or more specifically, something on your car. Let’s say that he starts out even with the tip of your right wiper blade, but in a few seconds moving across to the left wiper blade. In that case, the car is going to come off the ramp in front of you. If the opposite is true – the car starts at the tip of the left blade, but after a few seconds is at the tip of the right blade, then he will come out behind you. Try it – it works.
So happy motoring in the rain, and stay safe!
924S944.com owner and writer is a former police officer and trainer, investigating traffic crashes and training officers in traffic crash investigation as well as driving. In PCA, he teaches HPDE and HPDE instructors. He is retired and now plays with cars.