Ciara, Dennis, Ellen… Achieving Road Safety during the Stormy Weather

The impacts of storm Ciara and storm Dennis are being widely felt across parts of the UK. Whole towns are being submerged underwater, trees are falling onto minor roads, and numerous roads are being closed due to flooding. On Friday 14th February, over 160mm of rain had fallen in Maerdy, Rhondda, more than double the UK’s average monthly rainfall.

Vehicles have been abandoned all over the country, as they have been flooded or are unable to work properly in these conditions. Extreme winter storms and weather incidents like this increase the likeliness of a driver's involvement in accidents and massively increase their chances of aquaplaning.

Latest figures show that 1/4 of traffic accident fatalities are a result of crashes during bad weather, with 46% in heavy rainfall and 73% on wet roads (according to a Hermann & Hermann 2018 article).

Aquaplaning is when a layer of water builds between the wheels of a vehicle and road surface, causing a loss of traction and therefore prevents the vehicle’s ability to respond to control inputs. Aquaplaning (sometimes referred to as hydroplaning) can occur in vehicles such as cars, buses, and even aircraft. A recent plane that suffered the effects of the storms was the Etihad A380 in Heathrow Airport on 15th February 2020. The 68km/hour winds affected the landing pattern of this flight, blowing the aircraft 90 degrees to the floor at one stage.

How can you tell if you’re aquaplaning? The engine in your vehicle will sound louder, a feeling of dropping your clutch down the gears will occur, which increases the revs in your vehicle, and the steering feels ‘light’. In addition, you may experience ‘fishtailing’- when the rear end of your vehicle sways from side to side.

Aquaplaning is most common during the first 10 minutes of light rainfall, as the water mixes with the oil residue in your vehicle.

If you find yourself aquaplaning, you should follow three rules. Never break; hold a firm grip on the wheel; do not turn too sharply. Braking is not recommended, however, if, in an emergency, you should brake gently.

Road traffic accident rates are high, resulting in over 1.25 million fatalities and a further 20-50 million injuries from these accidents each year. Whilst it pays to be extra cautious during such strong winds and heavy rain, road safety should be considered all-year-round. With the Checkpoint Best Practice Guide to Wheel Safety, readers can identify the telltale signs of poor wheel safety, wheel loss and maximise wheel safety. Get your free copy here.

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