One of the keys to safe driving for our teens (and ourselves) is to be “ready for anything.”

Stuff Happens when you’re driving—and hydroplaning is one of those things that most of us don’t see coming.

What is Hydroplaning?

It’s that fleeting—but awful—feeling you can get when you’re driving on a wet road and your tires lose contact with the road surface. It generally lasts for only a few seconds, but it can seem much longer as you have no control over your vehicle.

When your vehicle is hydroplaning you’re actually riding on a thin layer of water. You can’t steer. You can’t brake. It’s a scary situation and it can happen on any wet road surface.

What makes it particularly dangerous, however, is that hydroplaning very often occurs during the first 10 minutes of a light rain.

Drivers of all ages and experience levels can get fooled into thinking the road just isn’t that wet—and therefore not that dangerous. But roads often have a light residue of oil on the surface, and the combination of oil and water make it deceptively slick—particularly at speeds of 35 miles per hour or more.

Again, one of the things that make it so dangerous is that often motorists aren’t even aware of it. They never see it coming. The good news is there are ways to avoid hydroplaning.

How can we protect our teen drivers and our entire families against hydroplaning?

Here are 10 simple tips:

  1. Keep your tires properly inflated. Under-inflation can get you in trouble (just ask Tom Brady) Under-inflated tires tend to “float” on the road surface.Properly inflated tires reduce the risk of hydroplaning. 
  2. Rotate and replace tires when necessary. Without proper tread, your tires can’t whisk water away 
  3. Slow down when roads are wet. The faster you drive, the harder it is for your tires to scatter the water. Even if the road doesn’t seem “flooded” with water, it can be slick. 
  4. Stay away from puddles and standing water. Exercise caution. You don’t want to swerve all over the road, but if you can safely avoid standing water, do so. Besides, excessive water can cause your brakes to slip as well. 
  5. Avoid driving in outer lanes. Most roads are “crowned,” meaning they are higher in the middle. This allows water to run off to the sides. But that means the water tends to accumulate on the sides. 
  6. Try to drive in the tire tracks left by the cars in front of you. The car in front of you can actually disperse some of the water. But don’t get lulled to sleep. The road is still wet. 
  7. Turn off cruise control. Normally, I’m a big advocate for cruise control as it is a vital tool for #1 of the 5 Essential Actions for Safe Driving – Speed Management. But when it starts to rain, or even drizzle, it’s important to stay off the cruise control! 
  8. Drive in a lower gear. Depending on how much you need to slow down, you may want to put your car into a lower gear for more traction. Going too fast in a lower gear, however, is counterproductive. You could slip more. 
  9. Avoid hard braking. If you hit the brakes hard, you’re almost guaranteed to hydroplane. Instead of gripping the pavement, your tires will be riding on a thin layer of water—and won’t stop quickly. Gentle braking before it’s urgent is much better. That, of course, means keeping your distance from the car in front of you. 
  10. Do not make sharp or quick turns. This is similar to braking too hard. Quick, sharp turns can cause you to lose traction and fishtail. If this does happen—the first thing to do is stay calm, get your foot off the accelerator, and then pump your brakes gently.

As is so often the case, the most important thing for our teens is to learn is to Drive Mentally—not just with their hands and feet but also with their heads.  Helping your teen to develop the “what if” mentality is an essential part of what truly effective  driver training is all about.


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