For the past few days, parts of Texas has seen some serious rainfall.
Almost every year Texas leads the nation in flood-related deaths. Our size and geography make us uniquely prone to flooding conditions, being hit by both hurricanes and tropical storms on the Gulf Coast and cool air masses from the Rocky Mountains. The area known as “flood alley” — a curved area along the Balcones Escarpment, stretching from Dallas through Austin to San Antonio — is the location of some of the heaviest rainstorms in the country.
But because so much of Texas is dry so much of the time, it’s easy for people to forget just how dangerous rain can be to the average driver. When the rain starts, we turn on our wipers but too many of us don’t adjust our driving to the conditions, taking foolish chances because we underestimate the danger.
So as we move through the spring months, it’s a good time to review driving practices for wet or flooded driving conditions.
Driving in the Rain
Wet roads reduce traction between your tires and the road’s surface, so your handling ability is reduced while your stopping distance will be increased. The most basic thing to do is what we recommend for all adverse driving conditions: slow down and increase your following distance. Posted speed limits are the recommended speed for perfect conditions: if the roads are wet, you should be driving well under the posted limit. And increasing your following distance will help to adjust for the loss in stopping power that wet roads create.
Falling rain also affects visibility. To overcome your own loss of visibility as much as you can, use your wipers and paying closer attention. Use the air conditioner, even if it’s not set to a cold temperature, to dehumidify the air and keep the windows from fogging. And cut out any distractions. Turn off that music, save your snacking ’til later, and pull off of the road before you touch that cell phone. Especially when conditions are bad, your mind needs to be focused on driving.
All the other drivers on the road will have just as difficult a time seeing, so make your car easier to see by turning on your headlights. And if your car is grey, give some serious thought to a paint job. Florescent lime green, for example, is easier to spot in the rain.
Adjust your schedule to allow for the delays that you know are going to happen. Leave early if you can, so that you have extra time to get where you’re going without a dangerous rush. And so you can sit behind someone else’s crash without stressing yourself out. Before you head home from work, call and let whomever know you’ll be late. This is definitely not the time to be making a call while you’re driving.
And stay out of the right-hand lane. Roads in Texas are crowned, built with a gentle side-to-side curve to the road’s surface. This helps the rain water to sluice off of the pavement, but it also means that the water will be deepest in the outside lane. Stay out of that lane if you can help it.
Driving on Flooded Roads
First, do not drive unless absolutely necessary, and never drive though a flooded area. If the road ahead disappears under the water, turn around and find another route. Even shallow water can hide hidden dangers, like dips in the road or even places where the road’s surface has been washed away.
Don’t underestimate the danger of water. Six inches of water is enough to reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing possible stalling and loss of control. If your car does stall, abandon it immediately and get to higher ground. One foot of water will cause most vehicles to float, and two feet of rushing water will sweep most vehicles along with it, even SUVs and pick-ups.
Flash floods can come rapidly and unexpectedly, and you may have no warning. They can occur within a few minutes or hours of excessive rainfall, or when a dam or levee fails and even a sudden release of water held by an ice or debris jam. Be cautious during storm seasons, or any time that flooding is common in your area.
At Comedy Guys Defensive Driving, we may instill comedy into our driving safety classes, but we take our core mission very seriously. Wet or dry, we want to make Texas roads a safer place to drive.