Hydroplaning/Aquaplaning

Vince L.    Advice compiled from various Calgary driving schools | September 5, 2014
Hydroplaning is an issue that all Albertans must face. Especially in Calgary where rain storms can come with very little warning and pour vast amounts of water on to concentrated areas.

Although many of the rain storms come as quickly as they go it will cause temporary flooding the roads in low laying areas. Calgarians have witnessed this as every year roadways such as Glenmore trail.

Alberta Driver Education & Training Inc. is a Calgary driving school that also serves Airdrie and surrounding areas, we believe that it is crucial to have an understanding of hydroplaning due to the sudden rainstorms that we Albertans experience. We can provide the drivers ed you need to be able to drive in all types of weather conditions.


As such Alberta Driver Education & Training Inc. has written this series to help drivers understand the causes and proper procedure when you find yourself hydroplaning and struggling for control of your vehicle. Knowing how to drive in rain and slippery conditions is crucial to your driver training success.

What is hydroplaning?

Hydroplaning is a condition that happens when your vehicle is traveling at high speeds as you hit a pool of water on the surface of the road. Due to the speed the water is then forced under the tire as the water cannot be displaced in time. This causes the tire to lift up in the water preventing the rubber from making contact with the surface of the road; this thin layer of water will cause your vehicle to lose some control as the traction between tire and road is negated.

Another reason for the loss of traction and control is due to the fact that water is also a lubricant, when driving through a pool of water even if hydroplaning doesn't occur the water alone is acting as a lubricant that will reduce the amount of traction between tire and road.

What are the causes?

As we mentioned above the hydroplaning is caused by an excess of water on the surface of the road, but other than sudden storms what else can cause this condition to happen. Hydroplaning is dependent on two major factors; water depth and vehicle related factors.

Water depth factors

  • Ruts
    Heavy vehicles and prolonged use can cause depressions on the road. This will directly affect the drainage system of that road allowing water to settle on the surface.

  • Slope
    Roads are designed to drain all the water that hit the pavement. If you picture a much wider angled upside down U, this way the water is once again allowed to drain from the center to avoid static water settling on the surface of the road.

  • Width of the pavement
    The wider the road is the steeper the grade to achieve a degree of drainage that can compensate for the wider amount of surface that the rain and water will hit. Increasing the grade of the slope will help drain the water to avoid pools from forming.

  • Road Curvature
    Depending on the curvature on the road there may be spots that are prone to flooding. Generally if the water that is being directed away from the centre of the road has nowhere to drain water will accumulate.

  • Sewage and drainage failures
    During very heavy rain storms such as the ones responsible for the June floods of Alberta in 2013 even sewage and drainage systems can fail. During these situations be prepared for sudden flooding in random locations.

Vehicle Factors

  • Speed, acceleration, steering, and braking
    All of these factors play a contributing role in hydroplaning. The faster the vehicle is travelling the easier it is for the water to become wedged under your tire, this will cause the lifting effect associated to hydroplaning. Once the tires lose contact with the pavement the effectiveness of steering, braking and acceleration are all decreased since traction is lost.

  • Tire Treads
    Tires have grooves that are designed for improving traction and displacing water, however as the tires are used they become bald this means that the grooves are grow less apparent and so too does the ability of that tire to grip the road. A tire in this condition will greatly increase the chances of hydroplaning, since the ability to displace water is decreased.

  • Tire Pressure
    Tires that are not inflated properly will cause the tire to deflect inward. This will prevent the tread from clearing the water which will increase your chances of hydroplaning when hitting water.

Tips:

  • Always slow down in a rain storm and scan ahead on the road for standing water. Our first defense is always to observe the road ahead of us to allow for the maximum amount of time possible to react when we see standing water on the surface of the road.

  • If going through the water is unavoidable do it at slow speeds.

  • If you hit a patch of water on the road and you do hydroplane, Let off the gas, never apply the brake and secure the steering wheel. The vehicle will slow down and you will regain control.

  • Be sure to check your windshield washers frequently to make sure they work properly

  • Inspect and test the defoggers, in heavy rains your windows are likely to develop condensation and fog up

  • Enroll in drivers ed to learn how to drive in all road conditions


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