Wet, flooded roads cause hazards for drivers and vehicles

With heavy rain impacting much of Kansas over the past weekend and with more downpours forecast throughout this week, AAA Kansas urges motorists to be extra cautious when driving. Rainy conditions result in 68 percent of weather-related crashes—more than snow, sleet or fog combined. According to research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, an average of 2,239 people die and more than 206,000 people sustain injuries in the more than 518,000 rain-related crashes annually in the United States.

In 2016 Kansas vehicle crash statistics, the latest available from Kansas Department of Transportation, wet road conditions were noted in nearly 5,900 crashes, including 29 that resulted in fatalities.

“Rain significantly impacts driving conditions—from visibility to traction and stopping time—but often, motorists don’t make the needed adjustments to their driving habits or address simple maintenance items on their vehicles that can make driving on rain-slickened roadways much safer,” said Jennifer Haugh, AAA Kansas spokeswoman.

AAA safety tips for wet weather driving

AAA Kansas’ Haugh shared the following recommendations for motorists to protect themselves and their vehicles during rainy weather:

Buckle up and get rid of distractions, such as music and cell phones, so you can concentrate on driving.

Slow down, brake early and drive with greater caution and alertness. Drivers are more likely to lose control of the vehicle when roads are wet, so reduce speed and keep your eyes and mind on the road. Brake early, but not hard, to allow the time needed to slow the car down. Drive defensively and with compromised road conditions in mind.

Increase following distance. In optimal conditions, drivers should allow 3-4 seconds to stop. When roads are wet, following distance should be increased to 8-10 seconds. This is even more important when driving near tractor-trailer trucks, recreational vehicles and cars pulling trailers that may be adversely affected by wind.

Watch for hydroplaning. No car is immune from hydroplaning on wet surfaces, including four-wheel drive vehicles. Even if brakes work under normal conditions, that doesn’t mean they will react the same on slippery roads where tires roll with less traction.

Never use cruise control in wet-weather, as it can cause hydroplaning.

If you do begin to hydroplane, take your foot off the accelerator and always look and steer in the direction you want to go.

Stay up to date on changing weather conditions by tuning into local media reports.

Turn Around, Don’t Drown! As little as six inches of water can cause you to lose control of your car and potentially stall your engine. Do not attempt to drive through flooded roads. Turn around; find another way to get to your destination. Pull over to a safe location if needed.

Seek higher ground. If your vehicle stalls or is suddenly caught in rising water, leave it immediately if it is safe to do so.

Flood water can be deceiving. No matter how shallow it may appear, water may be concealing downed power lines, may be deeper than it appears, or have significant current.

Use the central lanes. When driving during heavy rain, use center lanes of the road (without straddling the yellow line). Avoid outside lanes where the water can collect at curbside or in median areas.

Use your defroster. Keep the air inside your car dry and prevent windows from fogging by using your defroster along with your air conditioner.

Take the nearest exit. If conditions worsen to the point where there is any doubt about your safety, take the nearest exit. Don’t just stop on the shoulder or under a bridge. If your visibility is compromised, other drivers may not see you and a crash may ensue.

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Make sure windshield wipers work and don’t streak.

Make sure tires are properly inflated and have a healthy tread.

Make sure headlights are on and that your brake lights and taillights are clean and visible—not just so you can see but so you can be seen by others. In Kansas, it’s state law that if your windshield wipers are on, so too must your headlights.

Flooded road risks

Heavy downpours that create standing or rushing water during a storm can be deceiving. Motorists should never drive through standing or rushing water at any depth. Should you be driving and encounter water covering the roadway, the safest course of action is always to simply turn the car around and avoid it altogether. No matter how familiar you may be with the road, never drive through standing water—at any depth. As little as one foot of water can “float” most vehicles. Two feet of rushing water can sweep away most vehicles—including SUVs and pickups.

“In addition to the personal danger it can pose, driving through high water may also cause serious damage to your vehicle,” continued AAA Kansas’ Haugh. “If you don’t know how deep the water is, don’t drive through it. The best plan is to park your car on the highest ground possible and take shelter.”

If a vehicle is driven through standing water, a driver risks flooding the engine, warping brake rotors, loss of power steering, or a short in the electrical components of the car, all of which can be costly to repair. Repairs related to flooded vehicles can cost thousands of dollars to repair—and may not be covered by your auto insurance.

“A flooded vehicle falls under comprehensive coverage, which you may not be required to carry. If your vehicle stalls in standing water, do not try to restart it. Instead, call AAA immediately, as attempting to restart the vehicle allows more water to enter and further damage the engine,” said Alex Greig, AAA Kansas Regional Insurance Manager.

Insurance claims for flooded vehicles

AAA Kansas’ Greig shared the following insurance guidance for when flood waters impact a vehicle:

The optional comprehensive portion of an auto policy covers physical damage to a vehicle caused by flooding.

Car owners should contact their insurance company to determine the extent of coverage before seeking repairs.

Take photographs of any visible damage.

Any vehicle sustaining flood damage should be fully inspected before being allowed back on the road. Mechanical components, computer systems, engine, transmission, axles, brake system and fuel system impacted by water contamination may render the vehicle unfit to drive. In many cases vehicles sustaining significant water damage will be determined to be a total loss.