Get prepared for rainy driving

Published on Wed, Oct 16, 2013 by Steve Guntli

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It was a long, beautiful summer in Whatcom County, but now the rainy days of fall are here, and local motorists may want a refresher course on driving in wet conditions.

Whatcom County receives close to 36 inches of rainfall annually and most of that precipitation falls between October and January. Each year, around 7,000 deaths are attributed to inclement weather conditions, according to the Federal Highway Administration. 

“Washington drivers are used to the rain, so they’re generally pretty safe,” said Cole Price, owner of Performance Driving 
School in Lynden. “People here know and understand, but sometimes people have trouble after the first couple of rains, especially if it’s been nice all summer and they aren’t used to it.”

Price says adjusting your speed to fit the conditions and keeping a safe distance between cars are crucial to wet weather safety.

“Just because there’s a speed limit doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right for the conditions,” he said.

Price advises keeping a two- to four-second following distance between cars in normal conditions, which can be calculated by counting from when the car in front of you passes a stationary object until your car passes the same object. In rainy conditions, increasing to five to six seconds following distance will give you more time in case you need to make a sudden stop.

Keeping your distance also will allow the car ahead to divert some of the water off the lane, increasing your safety. 

Even careful drivers can get into trouble if conditions are bad enough. Vehicles can hydroplane in as little as half an inch of water. Hydroplaning occurs when your tires “float” on the water. The water effectively lifts the car off the road, taking away its traction.

When this happens, Price says the best thing to do is stay calm. 

“When you’re hydroplaning, take your foot off the gas and don’t slam on the brakes,” Price said. “Let your tires regain traction. If your car is headed in the wrong direction, turn your wheels towards where you want to go and you’ll straighten out.”

Preparing your car ahead of time can save you a lot of trouble down the road. “Make sure your tires have good tread on them and your tire pressure is high enough,” said Rich Eacret, owner of Alley Auto in Blaine. Consider upgrading to all-purpose tires or winter tires, which tend to have more traction and better road stability. 

Eacret also recommends checking that all your lights are in good working order, as visibility is especially important in inclement weather.

Windshield wipers are obviously your first line of defense against rain, sleet and snow. Wipers should be changed at least twice a year. 

“When it comes to wiper blades, cheaper is not better,” said Ron Willand, owner of Willand’s Tech Auto in Ferndale. “When it rains and you need them, you want them to be dependable.”

Worn out blades will streak the windshield, making it harder to see. Willand says the summer sun is tough on wiper blades and can cause them to harden and crack, so the damp fall season is the perfect time to change them out. 

So before you hit the road and encounter a rainy day, make sure you’ve taken the time to brush up on these tip and check to make sure everything on your car is in good working order to deal with the wet weather ahead.