Not to rain on your parade, but heavy downpours can be dangerous: more than half of flood fatalities are vehicle related, according to the National Weather Service, and Federal Highway Administration data shows that more weather-related crashes happen in rain than in snow or sleet. We asked James Solomon, subject-matter expert on driver safety at the National Safety Council, how to stay safe if you need to drive in a downpour.
Drive a clean car in good condition
When visibility is limited by wet weather, it’s important that your car itself doesn’t impede your sight. Once a month, clean the outsides and insides of windshields and windows, and check your windshield wiper blades for wear. Check the level of your washer fluid once a week.
Solomon also recommends doing a quick check of headlights, taillights, turn signals and tire treads before driving the car for the first time each day. “Rain or no rain, operating without [signal lights], you’re a hazard—and it’s a ticketable offense,” he explains.
Know the roads
Roads are built to withstand different weather conditions in different parts of the country, so if you’re new to an area, use extra caution during or after a storm. In many southern states, “the asphalt isn’t as compressed,” Solomon explains. “This means it can rain and the road can look totally dry, but it’s not. You’ll squeegee up the water that’s caught in the road aggregate, and now your tires are wet and slick and you don’t even know it.”
Take a moment to consider your route, too. If it takes you through low-lying bridge underpasses or past ditches prone to flooding, it might be a good day to take the freeway instead.
Switch on lights, not brights
Though many newer cars come with automatic running lights, turn on the actual headlights when using windshield wipers so your taillights come on as well. “The idea behind having headlights is so other people can see you,” says Solomon. “When you turn your headlights on and your back lights come on, you identify all four corners of the vehicle.”
You don’t, however, need to flip on your brights; the brighter light will just reflect off wet surfaces, bouncing back into your eyes and irritating other drivers.
Leave at least five seconds of following distance between your own car and the one in front, and don’t feel pressure to drive the posted speed limit. “The speed [listed] on the side of the highway is the maximum speed for perfect weather and perfect road conditions, so if the road is wet, it could be too fast for existing conditions,” says Solomon. “If other people don’t like it, they can pass you.”
And remember: never use cruise control on wet roads. If you hydroplane under cruise control, the automatic acceleration can cause you to lose control of your vehicle when your tires regain traction.
Don’t get in too deep
If water is covering the markings on the road, it’s too deep to drive on. According to Solomon, you can lose control with as little as three inches of water on the road. And even if you manage to stay in control, a larger vehicle could push some of that water underneath your car, causing your engine to stall.
Steer where you want to go
If you’re going too fast and end up hydroplaning (which Solomon calls surfboarding or waterskiing, “because that’s what you’re doing”), turn the wheel in the direction you want to go—and don’t be afraid if you don’t steer out of the skid on the first try. It may take three to five adjustments to get back on course (and a little while longer for your heart to stop pounding).
Eric Kirchner - Safety Chairman
How to Adjust Your Side Mirrors
When do we rely on our mirrors the most? Probably when we are changing lanes. Our objective is to change position without getting in another driver’s way or cutting him/her off.
The positioning for the inside rearview mirror is fairly obvious — you should be able to see out of the rear window. Be sure the day/night switch found on most rearview mirrors is in the day position during daytime operation.
As for the side mirror or mirrors, most people adjust them so they can see the side of the car on the inside edge of the mirror. Consider the view when the side-view mirrors are set up as just described. Essentially, you have created “tunnel vision” to the rear. Your side-view mirrors overlap much of what your inside rearview mirror sees and you’ve also created blind spots
What is the solution to tunnel vision and blind spots?
Simply adjust the side-view mirrors just beyond the point where you could see the side of the car on the inside edge of the mirror. With this setup, you almost completely solve the blind spot problem. To adjust the outside mirrors this way, follow these two steps (This of course, is for vehicles with an inside mirror):
For the driver side mirror, roll up the window and press your head against the glass. Adjust the mirror so that you can just see the edge of the car
For the passenger side mirror, place your head in the center of the car (directly behind the inside mirror mount) and adjust the outside mirror so that you can just see the edge of the car. This is necessary even with convex (curved) mirrors where the image is distorted a little.
When you’re in your normal driving position, you won’t be able to see the sides of the car but will be able to see other vehicles in the adjacent lanes.
For those times where there is a vehicle present in the other lane that isn’t visible when checking the mirrors, the other vehicle’s position will probably be such that its front is adjacent to your door and you’ll spot it in your peripheral vision as you check the side-view mirror.
Most of us have dealt with blind spots by turning our head for a quick check. This isn’t generally a problem in terms of missing something ahead; however, there can be a dangerous side effect.
Unless you’ve worked to control it, your arms will move in the direction your eyes are looking causing the steering wheel to turn.
With well-positioned mirrors, your head won’t have to turn as far to check any remaining blind spots.
There are other applications of changing lanes that this setup is useful for as well. For example, when getting on a highway, your ability to judge how to best merge with the traffic flow will be greatly enhanced with the view provided by the “wide-view” side mirror. Likewise, as you pass interchanges on the highway, your ability to monitor traffic entering the highway is enhanced. And finally, a good guideline for deciding when to move into the passing lane or back into the traveling lane is to make sure that you can see the headlights of the vehicle you want to pull in front of in the rearview mirror. We can all appreciate the value of adequate pull-in space.
Eric Kirchner - Safety Chairman
Summer Tires Can Crack in the Winter
(Consumer Reports published 3-15-14)
Summer tires not only lack grip in cold weather, but they can be damaged by low temperatures.
Anything made with rubber can become more rigid as temperatures get very low, as evidenced by some ultra-high-performance summer tires being used by General Motors and other manufacturers on some vehicles. These tires not only lose grip in cold weather, but they risk cracking, compromising longevity.
This is a significant concern for buyers in northern climes, with GM notably advising not to drive such vehicles during winter chills at the risk of developing damaging cracks. It is likewise important to owners looking forward to spring drives in their performance cars to inspect the tires thoroughly.
GM bulletin #13-03-10-001A: "Information on Tire Cold Weather Cracking" – (Jan 30, 2014) advises “avoid driving, moving, or test-driving vehicles equipped with high-performance summer-only tires below 20º F as operating at these temperatures can cause damage to the tires.” The car models affected include the 2012-2014 Buick Regal GS, 2014 Cadillac CTS Vsport, 2012-2014 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and Z/28, 2014-2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE, and the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray and Stingray Z51, and SS sedan.
In GM’s quest to deliver the ultimate handling in these cars, they built performance tires with essentially a racing compound to deliver the goods. These tires are great for driving in temperate areas and are ideally suited for track use, but the practicality of the tires stops there.
Reaching out to a GM tire supplier, Pirelli, a spokesman explained that the performance tread compound becomes so stiff on such tires that it can lead to cracking when deformed in cold weather. In measuring the hardness of numerous brands of summer tires at 0º F, we have found the tread becomes almost inflexible and the tires lose their bounce when dropped. The cracking is characterized as cosmetic, but in our experience any cracking shouldn’t be taken lightly as it can evolve over time. If there is crack, you should replace the tire. (GM’s service bulletin also recommends discarding a tire with cracking.)
Here is what you need to do if you own or are considering purchasing one of the GM cars mentioned in the bulletin or any car that comes with summer tires.
When looking at a new car with performance summer tires at a dealer’s lot, check the tires on the car for cracking in the tread area. The car may have only a few miles on the odometer, but if it was parked in the cold and moved around during transport or by the dealer, the tires could have cracked. This is the time to have the dealer change the effected tires, because once you make the deal and drive off, it’s your headache.
If you own a car with summer tires, refrain from using it at all in cold temperatures as the tires may crack. Leave it parked. Beyond cracking concerns, summer tires have diminished grip below 40º F on dry and wet roads and virtually little to no grip on snow and ice.
If you bought your dream car with summer tires on it and live in an area that does have winter, then consider using performance all-season tires or dedicated winter tires. These will provide better cold-weather grip and preserve the pricey summer times for the other seasons. Through our testing, we have found a number of ultra-high-performance all-season tires that provide handling and dry and wet grip on par to many summer tires we have tested. (See our fulltire ratings).
Eric Kirchner - Safety Chairman
Preventing Mosquitoes from Biting You
Wear mosquito repellent. A variety of specially-formulated insect repellents are available for sale at camping or sporting goods stores. Apply insect repellent to uncovered skin surfaces when outdoors, especially during the day. When using sunscreen, apply it before insect repellent. Here are a few common chemical solutions effective at repelling mosquitoes:
Repellents containing 30% to 50% DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) are recommended for adults and children over 2 months of age and effective for several hours. Repellents with lower amounts of DEET offer shorter-term protection and must be applied more often.
DEET can irritate skin when applied directly in high concentration or for long periods of time. It can even cause severe skin reactions in certain individuals.
Despite rumors to the contrary, DEET has never been scientifically proven to cause cancer.
Repellents containing up to 15% picaridin, which must be applied often, are available in the US. Repellents with higher concentrations of picaridin may be available in some regions outside the US.
Consider an all-natural solution. Experiment with non chemical solutions such as Citronella (natural plant oil). Tea tree oil and vitamin B have reportedly helped some people repel mosquitoes. As with any product, their effectiveness depends on the situation, your own skin chemistry, and the exact type of mosquito you are dealing with. Note, however, that so-called "alternative" solutions sometimes aren't held to the testing standards that mainstream commercial repellents are - research alternative solutions and read testimonials before spending any money.
Wear loose, long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors. One of the best ways to keep mosquitoes from biting you is to simply cover your skin. Wear your sleeves and pant legs as long as possible to cover as much skin as possible. Also keep your clothing as loose as possible. This serves two purposes: first, it's much more comfortable in the hot,humid weather where mosquitoes thrive. Second, mosquitoes can sometimes bite through clothing that's held tight against the skin, especially if the fabric is thin.
If you have the money, camping and sporting goods stores often sell specially-designed pants and shirts made out of strong yet lightweight material. These clothes offer maximal protection from mosquito bites along with a relatively high level of comfort.
Clothing may also be sprayed with repellent containing permethrin or another EPA-registered repellent for greater protection. (Remember: don't use permethrin on skin.)
Don't waste money on an electric hanging bug "zapper." These have been shown to kill many bugs very effectively but generally the bugs killed are the non-harmful ones. Plus, the noise they generate tends to be obnoxious. Mosquitoes can be more effectively killed by one of the dedicated machines that use heat and carbon dioxide to attract the mosquitoes and then entrap or kill them using nets, containers or chemicals.
Sleep with a mosquito net over your bed. The mosquito netting has fine holes big enough to allow breezes to easily pass through but small enough to keep mosquitoes and other biting insects out. Hang the netting over your bed, securing the top of the net to one or more surfaces. Support the net so that it's tented without hanging down onto you. Make sure to sleep without touching the sides - mosquitoes can actually bite you through the netting if it's tight against your skin. Check for holes regularly - patch them with duct tape for a quick fix..
Protect infants less than 2 months of age by using a carrier draped with mosquito netting with an elastic edge for a tight fit.