Safer Driving in the Rain


Sufficient tire tread is very important in the wet weather.

There’s a meteorologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who makes an annual prediction about whether we’re going to have a wet year or a dry year. The problem is, it seems he’s wrong just about every year. If he says it’s going we’re going to get lots of rainfall, we have a dry year, and vice-versa.

So a few months ago, he was on television proclaiming that this was going to be a drier-than-normal year. That told me we were in for lots of rain, and so far, we’ve been treated to record rainfall amounts this season.

As I slogged my way down the freeway during our of our recent deluges, I noticed something about the cars around me. Only around two thirds of them had their lights on. The other third were violating the law. Yes, you have to use your low beam headlights whenever it’s raining according to the California Vehicle Code. That’s not a new law; it’s been on the books for six years now.

I can’t for the life of me figure out why people wouldn’t want to make their cars as visible as possible when the skies are dark and rain is falling. Are they trying to “save electricity”? That’s silly, as a car’s charging system is fully capable of powering the lights while the engine is running. It doesn’t cost any more to use the headlights.

So for safety’s sake, switch on your lights whenever you switch on your wipers. Your fellow motorists would like to be able to see you. And if your car has automatic DRLs, or daytime running lights, be certain the taillights come on at the same time. If not, use the headlight switch to make sure all the lights are on.

Visibility is also important for you in your ability to see outward. Those wiper blades that sit on the windshield all summer baking in the sun tend to get dried out and stiff. If you’re finding that they don’t clear water away well, it’s time for new blades. Also, don’t forget the rear wiper that’s commonplace on SUVs, hatchbacks and minivans.

You also need to be able to see out of the rear window and side windows. (You have to see your mirrors, right?) I’m stunned at how many people I see driving along in the rain, with all the windows completely fogged up. Whenever it’s raining, use the defroster setting on the a/c system, as it’ll draw moisture out of the interior and keep all the windows clear. Your wet clothes and shoes will also dry out faster as you drive.

Tires with good tread are very important on wet roads. In reality, when the pavement is dry you don’t need tread at all. (Race cars use “slick” tires for better grip.) But as soon as there’s any standing water on the road, tires with worn-down tread begin skating or “hydroplaning” much more easily. A car with little or no tire tread depth is an accident waiting to happen.

The problem is, it’s not always easy to see the tread surface of your car’s tires. For the fronts, you can park with the wheels turned fully one way or the other for easy inspection. The rears will require a hands-and-knees view.

Finally, don’t be one of those fools who assume that because they have four wheel drive they can just drive as fast as they like on wet roads. Despite what people may have subconsciously gleaned from advertisements showing four wheel drive vehicles plowing through rain or snow, keep in mind that only acceleration gains an advantage. All wheel or four wheel drive vehicles need the same distance to stop as the same car or truck with two wheel drive. Period.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @

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