Virginia winters mean plenty of rain and snow. While many drivers are ready to watch out for icy conditions, it can be easy to forget that roads may pose a danger even at milder temperatures.

It only takes a small amount of rain to create a hazardous mix of oil and water roadways, and even driving through puddles or pooling water on the pavement may lead to the sudden loss of control known as hydroplaning. When conditions are wet, motorists must take special care on the road to avoid a potentially devastating auto accident.

What is hydroplaning?

Most tires have a tread specifically designed to direct water out from under the surface of the tire to ensure reliable traction. However, as a vehicle increases speed, this “wicking” design is not always able to keep up. When conditions are especially wet, a tire’s tread may not remove water quickly enough to maintain reliable road grip—particularly at higher speeds.

How can drivers avoid hydroplaning?

Speed and water are the two basic elements of hydroplaning, and drivers may experience loss of control due to slick road conditions at relatively low speeds. When surfaces are wet, 35 mph and 1/12 inch of water on the pavement is all it takes to potentially lose the ability steer, accelerate or turn.

Pooling water poses the greatest risk just after rain begins, particularly if there is heavy precipitation. When the weather is wet, it is important to avoid driving through puddles or areas of standing water, but it is also important to generally slow down, turn off cruise control and avoid suddenly braking or turning.

When a driver does begin to lose traction, he or she should:

  1. Avoid rapidly accelerating, braking or turning.
  2. Grasp the steering wheel firmly.
  3. Slowly ease up on the gas pedal.
  4. Move the steering wheel carefully in the direction of the skid.
  5. Gradually apply the brakes.