As rains lashed Mumbai recently, the tragic case of a woman who fell off a motorcycle and was crushed underneath a bus was in the news. Video footage shows that she was holding an umbrella while seated sideways on a bike, a common and dangerous mistake committed by pillion riders.
Road accidents are a common occurrence in India, and wet roads along with poor visibility increase the risk further during rainy season. Lack of awareness is a major cause of accidents. The science of prevention of road accidents was described in detail in my earlier article.
The following are 15 easy tips for safe driving in rainy weather
1. Courtesy comes first
Slowing down our vehicle in water-logged areas of the road will help avoid splashing water on other people. Pedestrians as well as two-wheeler riders are vulnerable to water splashes.
2. Beware of pedestrians who stray on to the road
Instead of walking along the footpath, pedestrians might suddenly stray onto the road to avoid puddles of water on the roadside. This puts them at risk of being run over-especially when there is two-way traffic. Drivers of vehicles will need to factor this into consideration when they look at the road ahead with pedestrians on it.
3. Tyre tread matters
The vehicle’s tyres must be checked before rainy season starts. If they are worn out with a smooth surface, they must be changed immediately.
Hydroplaning is a phenomenon that occurs when a worn-out tyre comes into contact with a wet road surface. Water is a non-compressible substance. It can form a thin layer between the road and the tyre. As the two surfaces get physically separated by water, the tyre is unable to grip the road at that moment. Not only will the vehicle skid out of control, but the brakes also will not work in such a situation.
Tread refers to the deep grooves that run along the length of the tyre’s road-contact surface. These grooves become shallow as tyres wear out. A tyre with adequate tread is less prone to hydroplaning because the water on the road gets easily channelled through these gaps when the tyre rolls along the road surface.
If hydroplaning occurs, do not apply sudden brake or abruptly turn the steering wheel: it will make the skid worse. The correct thing to do is to take the foot off the accelerator, keep the steering pointed steadily in the intended direction and to gently apply the brakes.
4. Brakes are sluggish when wet
Brakes come in two main varieties: disc and drum type. Drum brakes are affected by water. Most middle segment cars and two-wheelers in India have drum brakes in the rear axle. Braking distance therefore gets prolonged when the wheels become wet. Braking distance is defined as the distance travelled by the vehicle to reach a complete halt after the brake is applied.
More expensive cars come fitted with disc brakes for both front and rear axles, which means that the braking mechanism itself is not affected by water. However, it should be noted that the intended outcome of braking is to stop the whole vehicle from moving—not just the wheels. That depends considerably on the condition of the tyres as discussed above. In other words, even though the brakes are able to stop the wheels from spinning, the vehicle itself would still be moving if the tyres happen to skid on a wet surface.
Hence, it is important to reduce the speed of travel in wet road conditions.
5. Keep distance
Leaving sufficient gap between vehicles allows for adequate braking distance, in case of an emergency stop. Ideally, a ‘two-second gap’ must be maintained between vehicles traveling in the same direction—during dry conditions. This is the distance that the vehicle would travel in two seconds at that speed. In wet conditions, a wider gap must be maintained.
6. Drive slowly around curves
Chance of skidding is greater along a bend on the road due to the action of centrifugal force. Besides, there are large blind spots that drivers fail to see while negotiating a curve. The solid A-pillar next to the front windshield of the vehicle magnifies the blind spot while on a curve. For instance, when a right-hand drive car takes a rightward curve, even a large oncoming vehicle can be hidden within the blind spot behind the right-side A-pillar.
7. Faulty time management can kill
Hurrying on the road to make up for lost time is a common blunder, which leads to risk-taking while driving. It is safer to start ten or fifteen minutes early and drive safely, rather than try to speed in unsafe conditions. Poor time management skills and failure to budget enough time for travel is the root cause of many accidents.
8. Risk vs benefit
Being on the road in itself is a potentially dangerous activity, particularly in developing countries where accident rates are high. Therefore, use of the road is to be avoided unless it is absolutely necessary.
9. Dangerously close
It is dangerous for two-wheelers to ride really close to a larger vehicle, especially when it is raining. The larger vehicle might swerve abruptly to avoid a pothole on the road. Besides, the driver in the larger vehicle might not even see the smaller vehicle due to the blind spot phenomenon. Blind spots are areas around the vehicle, which the driver cannot see directly or through the mirrors. The larger a vehicle, the more the blind spots. In addition, rain can block the view through the mirrors.
As was observed in the Mumbai incident, the two-wheeler itself can easily overbalance if it hits a pothole on the road. Large potholes can be hidden under water during heavy rains, leading to accidents. If the incident occurs alongside a large vehicle, the risk of being run over after the fall is greater.
10. The umbrella trap
It is suicidal to open an umbrella while seated on a motorcycle. The sudden jolt when the umbrella catches wind can easily knock the person off the seat. Once the person falls, not only do they suffer head injury from hitting the hard surface of the road, they are also at additional risk of being run over by other unsuspecting vehicles that happen to be nearby at that time. If getting wet is a concern, wearing a raincoat is the right option.
11. Dim those lights please
High beams must be avoided while driving as far as possible, as it can potentially blind the drivers of oncoming vehicles.
12. Replace wiper blades
The wiper blades must be checked before rainy season starts. Greasy, worn out wiper blades impair visibility while driving in wet conditions. The problem is worse at night as light gets reflected off the water, grease and dirt particles remaining on the windshield.
13. I see you, but do you see me?
It is equally important that other people see us while using the road, as we see them. Many people are unaware of the fact that drivers seated inside vehicles do not see everything on the road outside. Visibility is worse when it is getting dark, during fog or while raining. It is important to turn on the parking lights in such conditions, so that other road users can see us.
14. Hazard lights are misleading and are not to be used unless the vehicle is stationary and there is an emergency. Driving at night without turning on the headlights is dangerous for the same reason.
15. When thunder roars, get indoors
When there is risk of lightning, pedestrians and two-wheeler riders must stay indoors. Buses and cars are relatively safe because of the protective metal shell. Lightning safety was discussed in my earlier article.
16. Horn is not ok please
Traffic is often slow during rains; and honking is not going to make it move any faster. The horn is exclusively meant to warn other people of impending danger. Needless use of the horn is to be avoided, as is not only irritating and aggravating to others, but also because it leads to health problems including permanent hearing loss.