South Africa is famous for its sunshine, and the average annual rainfall for the whole country is around 464mm (the world average is around 860mm).
So when it rains, we all know about it. Summer afternoon thunderstorms in Joburg can turn a 30-minute commute into a two-hour one. Cape Town winters are notoriously cold and wet. And Durban gets warm rain all year round, putting paid to a lot of holiday-makers beach plans.
Driving in the rain can quickly transform a comfortable trip into a stressful one, as the road ahead becomes more difficult to see and navigate. Driving in wet weather not only requires common sense, it also calls upon knowledge and driving techniques seldom tested in dry conditions.
"No matter how experienced you are, driving in wet weather is a time to be cautious and patient,” says Derek Kirkby, Training Director for Ford’s global Driving Skills for Life (DSFL) programme in SA. "
By arming yourself with adequate knowledge and techniques, you can better manage wet conditions as a more responsible and secure driver.”
DSFL offers motorists the following tips for safer journeys in wet weather.
1. Remember to slow down
When the roads are wet and icy, the tar is slippery, so you need to reduce speed. Speed limits posted on road signs are suitable for ideal conditions, and should not be followed in poor weather conditions.
2. How to improve your visibility
A sudden downpour can quickly affect your visibility and make it a challenge to even follow road markings. Being able to look as far ahead as possible will give you the best chance of anticipating and reacting to upcoming conditions. One way to do this is to drive in lanes without vehicles obstructing your vision. Another way is to follow a vehicle of a similar size so you can see through their back and front windscreens, to the road ahead of them. Avoid following large trucks which obstruct your vision.
3. Be careful of still water on the road
A puddle of water can hide a deep pothole, a manhole, or even a sinkhole. Furthermore, if there is enough water on the road, vehicle tyres cannot always sufficiently evacuate water between the treads to maintain contact with the road. At certain speeds, your vehicle can aquaplane, lifting off the ground, and you will be driving on a layer of water. If your vehicle does start to aquaplane, attempt to smoothly and lightly slow down until you have regained control. Avoid abrupt and excessive steering, heavy braking, or taking corners too quickly.
4. Don’t use your cruise control on wet roads
Cruise control is designed to maintain a certain speed. If you hit a puddle or build-up of water on the road, the cruise control will induce aquaplaning.
5. Don’t drive through flooded areas
Never underestimate the danger of flood waters. Flooding can wash away the entire road surface and a significant amount of ground beneath. Water also hides dips in the road. And if water gets sucked into the air-intake valve and then the engine, your vehicle will probably shut off and you will be stuck.
6. Be extra cautious on dirt and mountain roads
Be vigilant for road obstructions, such as rocks, displaced by rainy conditions. Dirt roads present a higher risk of washouts and changing circumstances in the environment, potentially in the form of landslides. Don’t drive on the edges of dirt roads or gravel roads in extremely wet conditions, as they are often soft and may have drains and washouts. Take extra care when ascending and descending hills as traction, steering, and braking ability could be compromised due to the slippery surface.
7. Prepare for unforeseen obstacles
Road hazards include not only natural elements like rocks and branches, but also pedestrians, farm animals, and vehicle accidents.
To avoid such objects, you must drive slowly enough to be able to detect, react, and come to a complete stop before coming into contact with that hazard. A good rule of thumb is that your distance of visibility should be no less than four times that of your stopping distance.
“Even if you stick to these guidelines, there may be situations where tough conditions and poor visibility give you little time to react,” says Kirkby.
"Fortunately, modern vehicles come with technology which can assist you in out-of-the-ordinary driving conditions. Depending on specification levels, Ford vehicles are equipped with Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and Traction Control in the Ford Figo range, a system of sensors which measure the vehicle’s horizontal movements at least 100 times per second.
In case of an emergency manoeuvre, the system can apply the brakes and adjust engine power to help you maintain control, even before you know you need assistance. And Ford’s weather-dependent lighting technology, which was recently launched in Europe, automatically adjusts headlights to help you spot roadside hazards in extreme heavy rain."