What is Hydroplaning?

In order to define ‘hydroplaning’ we first need to define ‘traction’. Traction is the resulting friction produced from a vehicle’s tires rolling on pavement. The friction produced is dramatically increased by the downward force applied to a rolling object – in our case, the weight of the vehicle. This means that heavier vehicles are not as likely to hydroplane.

Hydroplaning can occur when the traction between the tire and the pavement is reduced or eliminated by water, causing the tire to ride on top of the water instead of the solid pavement. In other words, a vehicle can lose traction with the pavement when the tires begin to roll over a wet surface so fast that the water on the pavement can’t be displaced in enough time to permit safe travel.

Hydroplaning may occur when water accumulates as little as 0.3 cm for a minimum of 30 ft  as a vehicle drives through at 35 mph or more. However, speed and water depth are not the only factors to determine when a vehicle will hydroplane such as quality of tires, weight of vehicle, weather conditions, and whether or not the vehicle is two or all-wheel drive. All-wheel drives may shift power to the rear tires potentially causing a dangerous hydroplane situation. Also, DO NOT use cruise control in wet or rainy road conditions.

The pattern of the tire’s threads as well as its size are important factors to consider when choosing a tire that will help you stay safe in wet road conditions. For instance, hydroplaning is much more likely to take place if the vehicle’s tires and tread patterns are narrow. Be sure to check the depth of the treads, because the more worn a tire is, the more dangerous the vehicle is to drive – especially in poor weather conditions. Having your tires rotated every 7-10 thousand miles will help prevent hydroplaning as well as driving at least 5-10 mph below the speed limit during poor road conditions

If you find yourself in a hydroplaning situation, the first and most important thing to do is to not panic then do the following:

  • Remain calm and remove your foot from the accelerator
    • braking may cause your vehicle to skid out of control
  • Slightly turn your steering wheel in the direction you are hydroplaning to help realign your tires and help you gain control of your steering
  • Feel for the tires reconnecting to the pavement and make necessary speed and directional adjustments