What is Hydroplaning and How Do You Prevent It?

Driving in rainy weather often causes the most traffic accidents. Although driving at night is also dangerous due to limited visibility. The cause of driving in the rain is that it is easy to lose control because of the phenomenon of hydroplaning.

The Americans call dangerous situations when driving on wet roads is hydroplaning. Europeans and the Japanese call it "Aquaplaning," which translates as "surfing on water." According to the US Federal Highway Administration, 75% of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on wet pavement, 47% of which occur when it is raining.

What is Hydroplaning

Some surveys also show that two types of people get into traffic accidents when driving in the rain the most: cowards and reckless people.

Shy people drive slowly. It is easy to be bulldozed by the following vehicles, especially when the vehicle behind has just passed the road out of sight. In addition, cowards also obstruct traffic and disturb others.

Risky people often drive fast and are the culprits of many terrible accidents. Both these types of people have in common is a lack of scientific understanding of hydroplaning. It is the leading cause of loss of steering control when it rains. Understanding the phenomenon of hydroplaning will help us feel more confident and less reckless when driving in the rain.

Warning Signs for Hydroplaning

In areas where roads are properly constructed, three factors cause hydroplaning: vehicle speed, tread pattern and tire wear, and water depth. In places when the road has just been completed, it has to install a "waiting for settlement" sign. So, we need to add the fourth factor: the quality of the road surface.

According to the Crash Forensics website, hydroplaning occurs whenever when a vehicle is driven on the water with a depth of more than 3 millimeters (1/10 inch) over a distance of more than 9 meters (30 feet) at a speed of 50 mph.

In perfect condition for tires and road surface drainage, hydroplaning rarely occurs at 55 mph. If we do not meet the above conditions, hydroplaning can occur when the speed reaches only 35 mph.

Hydroplaning is divided into 3 types: 

1. Reverted Rubber Hydroplaning

What is Hydroplaning

During emergency braking, the wheels are locked for a long time. Just a very thin layer of water, combined with high temperatures, makes the water evaporate more and stick to the tire surface.

When research shows that with less than 1/10 inch in water film thickness, Hydroplaning can already occur.

2. Dynamic Hydroplaning

What is Hydroplaning

Hydroplaning occurs when water prevents contact between your tires and the road, leading to loss of control and an accident. The effect of a water slide is similar to that of a driver losing control on a snowy road. It may feel like your car is drifting and you have no control over the direction you're going.

According to studies, in order for hydroplaning to occur, in addition to wet pavement conditions, it is usually necessary to add the following conditions:

  • When the vehicle speed is above 45 mph
  • Water depth from 1/10 inch
  • Wet track over 30 feet

Analyzing further, we will see that every function of the vehicle changing direction or speed depends on the friction between the tire and the road surface. The treads of rubber tires are designed to disperse water from underneath the tire to keep friction.

However, with the wheel rotation speed is too high, the tire grooves cannot disperse in time. This will create a film of water between the tire and the road surface.

3. Viscous Hydroplaning

What is Hydroplaning

This is the case where for some reason the viscosity of the water is too low. Low viscosity makes the tires unable to create friction. In this particular case, hydroplaning occurs at any vehicle speed.

How does hydroplaning occur?

Hydroplaning or Aquaplaning is a situation that can happen while driving on the road when it rains. To understand hydroplaning, we need to know the conditions when they generate traction. Traction comes when the wheels create friction with the road surface, resulting in the vehicle being pushed forward.

When the road surface is covered with water or the vehicle moves too fast, there is not enough time for the water to escape from the contact surface between the tire and the road. Water forms a barrier between the tire and the road surface, and the vehicle begins hydroplaning.

1. Weather Types

Many warnings advise us to be extremely cautious during the first 15 minutes when it rains. Asphalt may still contain some lubricant. During the distillation process, the oil will float on the surface of rainwater. This layer of oil will lose the friction between the tire and the road surface. The dirt on the road surface will mix with the rainwater, making the water less flexible. Also, it will be difficult for water to escape from the contact surface between the tire and the road surface. It also causes early hydroplaning.

2. Tire and Tread

Tire size and tread shape are also vital. Hydroplaning is more common when the vehicle comes with narrow tires. Worn tires are also more dangerous in wet road conditions.
Some tread patterns create better drainage channels than others. Heavy trucks are less prone to hydroplaning than light trucks.

3. Wheel System

What may surprise us is that all-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive vehicles are more prone to hydroplaning than front-wheel-drive FWD. The reason AWD is prone to hydroplane is that AWD increases vehicle performance. The microprocessor-controlled differential can shift power from the front to the rear once the front wheels lose traction, causing hydroplaning.

What to do to prevent hydroplaning?

  • Do not drive at high speed when it is raining or the road is wet.

According to the advice of experts, we should only drive at a speed below 2/3 of the normal speed. On the road, the car can run at a speed of 60 mph. When it rains, we just should only run below 40 mph. Be careful during the first 15 minutes of rain.

  • Do not use tires that are too worn.

We need to check the tires before the rainy season. If we find the tires are worn, we need to replace them immediately. We can use a penny tire test with the portrait of President Lincoln and put it in the tire grooves. If you only see part of the hair, the tire is in good shape. If we see the full image of Lincoln, it's time to change the tires.

What is Hydroplaning
  • Turn off cruise control. For vehicles with this feature, you should disable it.

This function should not be used when it is raining or wet as it will take longer for the vehicle to regain control of the vehicle.

Regardless of tire condition and vehicle model, hydroplaning can be prevented. The first is to slow down, as speed increases the likelihood of the vehicle being hydroplaning. Even with hydroplaning, slow speeds are less dangerous.

  • Need to avoid fast vehicles going through the flooded area, especially on curves.

One trick to help avoid hydroplaning is to observe the vehicle ahead. If we detect that the car in front staggers, it means that when our car comes to that position. If we keep the same speed, we will also be in danger. If you find the car in front of you suddenly splashing water, it means the water is deeper. So when you get there, your car may also be hydroplaning.

  • Rotate and balance tires regularly and properly

To avoid future risks, you should rotate and balance the tire every time you change the oil. This can help your vehicle balance better.

How to know if the car is hydroplaning?

It depends on the sensitivity to the steering feeling of each driver when controlling the vehicle. When the car is hydroplaning, we feel that the steering wheel feels loose, and the car is wobbly.

What to do in a situation of hydroplaning?

When the preventive measures fail, the vehicle is in a hydroplaning situation. We only discover it when the vehicle is no longer controlled to our liking. Then, try to keep calm. If we do not panic, we can control the situation.

Do not brake suddenly, do not spin. In most cases, we need to reduce the throttle to get the car out of hydroplaning. So, try to clench the steering wheel. Keep the steering wheel facing the place we have determined, and do not change the steering.

If the vehicle does not come with ABS (anti-lock brake), take your foot off the gas pedal, allowing the vehicle to decelerate. In case of forced braking to avoid a collision, we must not brake urgently. Instead, you must click the brake gently and continuously to decelerate. It is a safe braking technique similar to ABS technology.

If the car has ABS, we only need to brake normally but not too hard. The computer of the car's central control system will cool down for the brake system to click. When the car is decelerated, the weight of the vehicle will push all the water out of the contact surface between the tire and the road surface. Then, our tires will regain friction with the road surface and the driver can regain control.

Many cars come with cruise control. It is a system that helps the car keep a steady speed when traveling on the highway. But many experts recommend turning off cruise control when it rains. We just need to press the brake. It will turn the cruise control off. Remember when driving in the rain, we should not use the brakes unless necessary.


With useful information on hydroplaning in this article, hope you can prevent hydroplaning, or at least you'll be ready to deal with it when it does.

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