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Tips to avoid car crashes from hydroplaning

February 17, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
When roads are slick from rain, motorists need to be extra careful not to lose control of their cars and hydroplane. There are a number of things you can do to avoid getting into an accident.

Carle Hall lost control of his SUV when he hydroplaned on an Arkansas highway two years ago.

"When I lost control, I was floating on a skim of water. And then I was backwards, and the next thing I know, I was upside-down in a ditch, coughing and choking from being underwater," Hall described.

Amateur video captured the accident as it was happening. After hydroplaning, Hall's SUV went into a slide and careened off the road, landing upside down in rushing water.

"Your tires physically lose contact with the road. They come into some depth of water, and a wedge of water builds up in front of them, and they lift up. So there's actually tire, water, and then road," explained Jennifer Stockburger with Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports' experts say the faster you drive through standing water, the greater your risk of hydroplaning. So it's critical to slow down.

The tires you buy can also make a big difference, according to Consumer Reports' tests.

To simulate hydroplaning conditions, testers flooded a portion of a track with three-eighths of an inch of water. They then drove at increasing speeds until the tires lost touch with the pavement.

In the most recent all-season tire tests, many safely reached 55 mph. However with some, the vehicle hydroplaned at only 47 mph.

Also, not only do you have to buy good tires for your vehicles, you have to be sure to replace the tires before the tread is too worn. All you need is a quarter to check them.

"If you insert it in the tread groove and can see the top of George's head, it's probably time to start considering shopping at least for new tires," Stockburger suggested.

So slowing down on roads with puddles of water and making sure you have good, well-maintained tires can spare you from having a serious accident.

If you find yourself hydroplaning, one thing you don't want to do is slam on the brakes. It won't help because your tires are not touching the road. Instead, ease off the gas pedal until you re-grip the road.