Whether it’s a drizzle or a downpour, driving in the rain can be difficult and dangerous. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration reports that the vast majority of car crashes are weather-related happen when it’s raining or on wet roads.
Slippery roads are the cause of nearly 1.2 million vehicle accidents each year, according to the highway administration. Here’s how to stay in control of your car and protect yourself while driving this spring.
1. Prepare yourself and your vehicle for the road
Before venturing into the rain, drivers should prepare to drive safely, says William Van Tassel, who manages national driver education programs for the American Automobile Association and is based in Orlando, Florida.
“You must be well rested and have a totally clear head; there is no room for any kind of weakening when driving in difficult conditions,” says Van Tassel.
Make sure your car can handle the rain. Your tires should be properly inflated – allowing them to have the most traction on the road – and have enough tread.
“The tread helps evacuate water between the tire and the road, so the deeper the tread, the better the traction,” says Van Tassel. “We tend to take tires for granted, but they are the most important parts of the vehicle. If someone’s tires are underinflated or near balding, they will have less traction on the road exactly when they need more traction.
If you put winter tires on your car in the winter, change them once the snow has melted because summer tires do a better job in rainy conditions, he adds.
2. Make sure you can see and be seen
Driving safely in the rain is more difficult due to limited visibility, especially at night, so test your windshield wipers. They have to clean the glass all at once, leaving no streaks. If they don’t work well, you may need to purchase and install new wiper blades. It’s an easy DIY project, although you can also do it for yourself at your local gas station or auto parts store.
If you expect heavy and frequent showers, consider applying water repellents to your windshield that help the water bead up and run off more quickly.
Turn on your defroster to keep windows from fogging up and wipe dirt off your headlights, brake lights, turn signals and taillights so other drivers can see you better, suggests Van Tassel.
Many cars have settings that automatically turn on the headlights when the sky gets dark or the windshield wipers are on, but it’s always a good idea to check that they’ve been turned on during a rainstorm.
You’re about twice as visible to other road users when your headlights are on, so whenever you’re driving — day or night, rain or shine — turn on the headlights, says Van tassel.
3. Keep your distance
In bad weather, drivers should leave more space between themselves and the car in front of them.
“It’s really hard to hit something if you have enough space around your vehicle, and drivers should increase their following distance to five seconds or more behind the vehicle in front,” says Van Tassel.
If you are on the freeway or on a multi-lane road, try to keep at least one side of your vehicle clear at all times. That way, if something happens in front of you and you don’t have enough time to brake, you can immediately move left or right, he says.
Pro tip: Since water tends to accumulate more in the outer lanes, drive in the middle lane.