Proper etiquette and preparation for rain

By Kristen Finley
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Dramatic view through a wet windshield. Photo by Mercedes Matzm.

While I’ve already broached the topic of checking your windshield wipers and tires (which, would be wise to check again now that the rainy season has actually arrived), I felt it necessary to bring some important tips to keep you and those around you safe during this year’s rainy season.

Illumination is Key.

In California, it’s the law to have your headlights on while you’re using your windshield wipers. This is because the rain on the windshield can and usually comprises your visibility, and seeing the tail lights of the car in front of you and the headlights of the car behind you gives you a better sense of how much space you have, or how much you need to make for yourself.

My Subaru has a rear wiper, making it a lot easier for me to see cars behind me – even when they don’t have their headlights on and my rear window is wet. Before my Subaru, though, I had three other cars that did not have rear wipers, and if a car didn’t have their headlights on, it was next to impossible for me to make out another car. So, if you happen to be behind someone who doesn’t have a rear wiper and you don’t have your headlights on, don’t count on them being able to see you.

When it’s rainy, the sun is shrouded in clouds, making for less light. When your car is darker in color, it’s harder for people to see you – hence the headlight illumination law. Think of it this way: the easier you are for other people to see, the better your chances are for a safe drive through the rain. The more difficult it is to make you out through a wet window, the more likely it is to land yourself in a bad situation.

Keep your distance.

In wet conditions, it’s a lot harder for a car to stop than it would in optimal conditions. So, if you had to slam on your brakes for example, it would take you a lot more time and effort to stop. Slamming on your brakes when the road is wet increases the likelihood of hydroplaning, even more so if your tires aren’t as rain-ready as they should be.

If you’re one who usually keeps a good amount of space between you and the car ahead of you, just increase it by a car length. When having to brake, it’s crucial to not slam your foot on the pedal. Instead, the best way to stop efficiently on a wet surface is to apply gradual pressure to the pedal, to maintain stability. The more space you have in front of you, the more time you have to react and stop accordingly.

Mind your speed.

It’s suggested by the California Highway Patrol to go 5-10 miles per hours slower than the normal speed demands, depending on how heavy the rainfall. Going slower gives you the same ability as keeping your distance – time to react accordingly.

Going slower also lessens your chances of hydroplaning, as your tires have a greater chance with making contact with the road underneath the water. It also means less water on your windshield, as well. Think about how when your car is stopped, there’s not as much water blocking your view compared to when your car is moving. Greater speeds = greater amounts of water. Your windshield wipers can only go so fast and wipe away so much water. It’s more important to be safe than quick when rain is a part of the driving equation.

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