April showers bring pretty flowers and dented fenders.
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, nearly one million vehicle accidents a year occur in wet weather. Many of these rainy-day wrecks are caused by motorists failing to appreciate the vast difference between driving in wet and dry conditions, says Peter Cunningham, a championship winning race car driver who tours the U.S. for Bridgestone Firestone, teaching driving skills and discussing the importance of proper tires. "To drive safely on wet pavement, you have to recognize the demands that you, your vehicle and your tires face," Cunningham says. "It's very different than driving on dry pavement, but many motorists fail to change techniques and attention. That's when many wet weather accidents occur." Cunningham's wet weather driving tips include:
* Slow down. As your speed decreases, the tire footprint (the amount of the tire's tread contacting the road surface) increases, providing better traction. You also reduce the risk of hydroplaning should you run into deeper water puddled on the road.
* Maintain a safe distance. Even with a good wet weather tire, be prepared for longer stopping distances on wet pavement. Since other cars may not have proper tires for wet weather driving, be extra alert at stop signs and red lights.
* Choose tires carefully. Too many drivers buy a tire based on initial price or appearance. For optimum performance in the rain, select a tire with tread design and rubber compounds that provide enhanced wet weather driving capabilities.
* Properly maintain your tires. No tire can provide good wet traction once the tread is worn below 2/32nd's of an inch(1.6mm) tread depth. Check your tires regularly and replace them at the proper time. Also, maintain the proper air pressure in your tires; check your vehicle manufacturer handbook or the door jamb for the proper air pressure for your particular vehicle and tires.
* Go smoothly. When braking, accelerating or turning, avoid jerky, abrupt movements.
* Avoid hydroplaning. If you feel your vehicle starting to hydroplane (riding on the surface of the water), take your foot off the accelerator -- don't hit your brakes. If you have a manual transmission, push in the clutch and let the vehicle slow down until control is regained.
* Plan your braking. If you are entering a curve slow down and brake gently before you start to turn.
* Turn on your lights. In most states it's required by law. It may not help you see, but it will help other drivers see you.
* Check your wipers. Install new wiper blades at least once a year to ensure good vision.
Cunningham says his tips can be shortened to "T & T." "Think and Tires," he says. "Think about your driving and install good tires for wet weather. Once you've installed the tires, keep them inflated properly and replace them when tread-wear indicator bars show. Don't be shy about asking information from your tire dealer. Your safety -- and mine -- could depend on your tires and how you think."