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Auto Club: Are You Ready For El Niño Rain-Soaked Streets, Freeways?

driving in rain

This is it.  The first El Niño storm of the year is expected today and weather forecasters say that Southern Californians should expect more storms to flow into the Southland basin by Friday. 


Nearly one-quarter of weather-related vehicle crashes occur in bad weather like rain, snow, winds, slushy or icy pavement, resulting on average in 1,300 deaths and 116,800 people injured annually, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration.  


Closer to home in 2011, more than 8,615 people were killed or injured in California in crashes involving rain, snow, and fog, according to the California Highway Patrol.


“The storms this week are expected to produce a lot of rain so we’re reminding motorists that wet roads and cooler weather combine to significantly increase crash risk,” said the Automobile Club’ of Southern California's Community Programs and Traffic Safety Manager Anita Lorz Villagrana.  “As best they can, drivers should scan the roadways, avoid road debris and look out for disabled vehicles in reduced visibility conditions.  The Auto Club also recommends that motorists turn on their vehicle headlights so they can see and be seen by other drivers.”


To avoid crashes, the Auto Club recommends:   


  • Slow down.  Motorists should drive slowly, particularly through puddles that are expected with this weather system. Driving at slower speeds also helps drivers be prepared for sudden stops due to debris and other wet-weather driving hazards.


  • Check brakes periodically.  After driving through puddles, check the brakes by tapping them gently a few times when it is safe to do so. Some newer vehicles’ brakes don’t need to be tapped.


  • Keep your distance/Avoid skids.  A car needs two to three times more stopping distance on wet pavement, so allow extra following distance between cars. Sudden braking often leads to skids.  Extra distance provides a buffer zone in case of skids.  If the car skids and control is lost, do not slam on the brakes. Instead apply the brakes with a steady, light pressure. Remember to steer in the direction the car is sliding. When traction is regained, steering control will return. For cars equipped with anti-lock brakes, drivers should apply heavy steady pressure, but not pump the brakes.


  • Use headlights and windshield defroster.  Driving in rain means reduced visibility. The Auto Club recommends that motorists turn on the vehicle's headlights so they can see and be seen. Besides, it is the laws in California that your headlights must be on if the windshield wipers are in use. Turning on the defroster helps keep the inside of the windshield clear of moisture.


  • Use center lanes.  When driving during heavy rain, use center lanes of the road (without straddling the yellow line). Avoid outside lanes where water collects at curbside.


  • Avoid distractions.  Motorists are advised to avoid eating, drinking, cellular phone use, text-ing, fumbling with CDs or applying makeup while driving, particularly in rain. If it's necessary to engage in these activities, pull over and stop in a safe place.


  • Stay informed.  Tune into radio and television weather reports or use weather apps to know where traffic congestion or crashes might be located. If possible, avoid these areas.


  • Watch for potholes.  Leave plenty of space between your vehicle and the one in front of you. Alert drivers have plenty of time to avoid potholes.  Before swerving around a pothole, be sure to check surrounding traffic to determine if it’s safe to change lanes.


  • Maintain a safe speed.  If a pothole cannot be avoided, slow down, if possible. Hitting a pothole at high speed increases the chance of damage to tires, wheels, shocks, struts, springs or suspension components.  High speed also increases the chance of losing control of the vehicle, especially if a series of potholes occurs on a curved or uneven roadway.  When driving over more than one pothole, reduce vehicle speed and hold the steering wheel firmly to avoid losing control.


  • Don’t brake directly over a pothole.  Applying brakes causes the car’s weight to shift to the front of the vehicle and can increase damage from the impact.


  • Beware of pooled water on the road.  It may be concealing a deep pothole.  “Hitting even one severe pothole could alter the alignment of a wheel from suspension damage resulting in uneven tire wear.  Uneven and premature tire wear means the tire will need to be replaced sooner than necessary and increase fuel consumption at needless expense,” said Lorz Villagrana. 


Car maintenance needs increase during wet weather.  Motorists can still call a AAA Approved car repair facility to have an automotive technician:


  • Check tires.  A certified technician will make sure tires are in good condition and are at recommended inflation. Driving with moderate tread or bald tires on a slippery surface is a major factor in skidding. In wet conditions, it’s advised that tires should have at least 6/32nd of an inch tread depth at any two adjacent grooves. Driving on tires that are over inflated or under inflated is also extremely dangerous on wet pavement.


  • Check windshield wiper blades.  Streaks or skipping on the windshield are signs of worn wiper blades. A certified automotive technician can inspect wipers and check washer solvent reservoir to ensure it's full.  (DYI - Use windshield washer fluid, not water, since it’s formulated to cut through oils that may get splashed on the windshield and won’t harm vehicle paint. Also, it’s very helpful to use water repelling glass treatment inside and outside your windows and windshield.)


  • Check brakes. The braking system is the vehicle’s most important safety item. Clear signs such as the brake light displaying on the car’s dashboard or feeling that your vehicle is taking longer to stop than necessary mean it’s time for the brakes to be checked. Brakes should be inspected at every service. As a reminder, vehicles with wet brakes and wet roads need increased stopping distance so motorists should anticipate this while driving.

More tips for caring for your car in El Niño wet weather can be found here

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The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.