One of the great things about writing this column is that there is no end of inspiration when I travel on our highways. Today was no different with the first rains of autumn falling and few, if any, drivers around me making any changes in their travel speeds. Welcome to the start of hydroplaning season!
I'm sure that you are aware that hydroplaning occurs when your tires ride on top of the water on the roadway. When this happens, you no longer have steering or braking control and will continue in the direction you are moving in until the hydroplaning ends or something bad happens. Lifting your foot off of the accelerator and waiting to regain traction prior to braking or steering is the appropriate action to take.
The possibility of hydroplaning depends mainly on four things, tire tread depth, tire inflation, speed and the depth of the water on the roadway. You have total control over the first three and can estimate the threat of the fourth. Watch the traffic in front of you. If their tire tracks fill in quickly you know that there is a lot of water on the road and it's time to slow down.
Another threat that you may not be aware of is water standing on or flowing across the roadway. If your front tires don't strike the water at the same time or if the depth is uneven, unbalanced forces will occur. If one side of your vehicle is suddenly slowed by the contact, the tires on the other side may lose sufficient traction to cause a significant change in direction and loss of control. Higher speeds here could be deadly.
Slush on the roadway is even more dangerous than water. Known as viscous hydroplaning, this can occur at speeds lower than hydroplaning on liquid water alone.