What Causes Hydroplaning?

By Peter DePaolis

What Causes Hydroplaning

Hydroplaning refers to water lifting a vehicle off the road enough for it to lose traction. It is difficult to control a vehicle that is hydroplaning, which is why many drivers end up in related car accidents. Understanding why hydroplaning happens can help you avoid this risk. If your car does start to hydroplane on a wet day, learn how to safely stay in control of the situation.

Recognize Hydroplaning Conditions

Pay attention to the weather to gauge the risk of hydroplaning. Hydroplaning is different than sliding on ice. Hydroplaning occurs on wet roads. You might be at risk of hydroplaning if you are driving in extreme weather conditions, such as a downpour of rain or flooding. If you do not feel comfortable driving in the rain, stay home and wait out the storm. Otherwise, prepare to deal with the risk of hydroplaning.

The elements that cause hydroplaning are water, speed and tire tread wear. If you are driving on a road with wet pavement – any amount of water – you could be at risk of hydroplaning. The water on the road becomes displaced as you drive, pushing it toward the front of your tires. If the water builds up enough, it can lift your vehicle off the road, decrease traction and make you lose control.

Driving fast increases the risk of hydroplaning. Speeding displaces water more than driving slowly, contributing to a buildup of water under the tires. Worn tire tread also increases the risk of hydroplaning. Your tread is what creates traction between your tires and the road. Worn or bald tires may skid on water more easily than tires with proper tread, adding to the risk of hydroplaning. Once you know what causes hydroplaning, you can learn how to avoid it.

Avoid High-Risk Areas

While any amount of water covering the road could cause your car to hydroplane, the odds are higher in deeper water. As you drive, keep an eye out for puddles or flooding. Avoid driving your vehicle through deep water if you can. Also avoid driving in the first 10 to 15 minutes of a rainstorm, as this is when the roads are most slippery. The rain mixes with car oil on the ground in the first 10 minutes, creating an extra slick surface before washing the oil away. Be extra careful around corners as well. Turning wheels are more likely to lose traction than those traveling in a straight line.

Do Not Panic

If your car does start to hydroplane, remain calm. Many hydroplaning car accidents happen because the driver panics and loses control of the vehicle. Do not jerk the wheel, overcorrect or stomp on the brakes. React with slow, controlled motions. First, remove your foot from the gas. Do not jam on the brakes, as this could make your car lose what little traction it had left with the road. Reduce your speed slowly and work on correcting the spin of your vehicle.

Turn your steering wheel in the direction you are spinning. This may seem counterintuitive, but it will help you regain control of the car. If you are sliding right, turn the wheel to the right. When your car straightens out, your steering wheel should straighten out as well. When turning the wheel, do so lightly but firmly. Do not yank the wheel or hold it so lightly that it spins out of your control. Be confident and calculating with your reaction while hydroplaning. Your vehicle should straighten itself out and lead you out of the danger zone. Once you have traction again, slowly press or tap the brake (depending on whether you have an antilock brake system) to reduce your speed. If you need to, pull to the side of the road to collect yourself before continuing.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.