Pique the Geek. Safe Driving for the Holidays 20091224

(More Merry, Merry with an aside of Caution – promoted by TheMomCat)

This is too late for the trips coming to Grandma’s House, but hopefully will be useful for the return trip. I spent over 300 miles mulling this around my feeble excuse for a mind today, well, officially yesterday, now.

Driving in the rain poses unique difficulties and dangers. I have posted a general essay about winter driving here, but driving in the rain transcends seasons, as it may rain in any month. My shoulders are sore and my hands cramping from the drive today.

There are several unique features about driving in the rain on highways, and first let us stipulate the conditions. For the purposes of this discussion, we shall assume that our journey takes us over good to excellent quality Interstate grade highways with a posted speed limit of 70 MPH. We will also stipulate that the lanes are well marked, with center reflectors every now and then, and are not worn down to the point that water pools in the main driving parts of each lane. If the quality of the road on which you are driving is not up to these standards, then even more caution is necessary. However, many people still decide to be reckless drivers at this time of year and it is important that we don’t replicate the same type of behavior. For example, if you are travelling to Virginia and want to ensure that you don’t get any driving charges, it may be in your best interests to take a look at what you need to know about reckless driving before setting off on your journey.

I did fine the first 300 miles today, and then it started to rain. Before I set off, I was going to buy a dash cam from Blackbox My Car and when the rain started, I was beginning to wish I had ordered one! This caused me to think of what is important to be as safe as possible. These are important things to know, so please pay attention. I have very few readers, and would like to keep as many as possible.

First, make sure that your tires are not too worn and are inflated properly. To check for tread, take a modern cent place it, with Lincoln’s head into the most shallow tread that you have, and make sure that you can not see his head hair. If you can see that, your tires need to be replaced because you do not have enough depth of tread channel to shed water. Do not drive with those tires. If you can not afford to replace them, then drive only when the roads are dry.

Second, make sure that your tires are inflated properly. On most newer cars there is a placard inside the driver’s door with optimum inflation numbers. Use them. They usually are not at the limit of the pressure of the tire, but are derived from performance tests that the automobile manufacturer has conducted to provide the best combination of handling, control, and comfort.

Third, carry rain gear in case you have a flat or a breakdown. I shall explain that later.

Forth, make sure that your wiper blades are in good condition and that your reservoir of wiper fluid is full; you can buy all the car care products you need at detailcentral. I do not advocate getting the really expensive wiper blades, but they are fine. The low cost ones are fine if you replace them AS SOON as they do not clean your windscreen well. Please do not wait until it is a mess. Twice a year usually is fine for the less expensive ones, depending on damage from freezing to the automobile and thus tearing in very cold climates, and solar damage in hotter ones. A bit of protectant, wiped onto them every month or two, helps, but be advised that they need to be cleaned the next day because the protectant is oily and will leave an evil residue on the glass of your windscreen. Armor All and Son of a Gun are popular brands.

Fifth, WASH your windshield outside (also a good idea for all out the outside glass) and inside with a good brand of glass cleaner or vinegar and water, and clean the inside of it twice, so that fog does not develop. The back glass need that, too, and any glass out of which you need to look for mirrors. Of course, the mirrors need to be clean as well.

Now we are prepared, and are driving. It gets sort of damp, then drizzle, then rain. This is a critical thing to remember: roads are much slicker as the rain starts than they are after they have been washed down for a while. In dry weather, leaking oil and transmission fluid, along with debris from wearing tires make a very slick (and lighter than water) film of lubrication on highways and streets. Just after the start of a rain highways are slicker than they will be an hour from then. The point is that they are the slickest just after the rain starts, and even though visibility might be quite good, your stopping distance is extremely long then, and your acceleration is next to zero, just spinning. After the water washes away this material, they are much less slick. A drizzle can be much more dangerous than a downpour, so watch out for this. Also, visibility can be impaired not from the light drizzle, but from the oily deposits from tires of cars in front throwing up this oily material onto your windshield. It is not a bad idea to carry a bottle of water, some paper towels, and liquid dishwashing detergent to clean the windshield. I remember getting a very oily one, and went into a McDonald’s and “borrowed” some hand cleaner and a handful of napkins to remove the film. Do not forget to pay special attention to the wiper blades with the detergent and towels, since they are hydrophobic and attract the oil. This is Pique the Geek, so a technical term is in order.

Here are my rules of driving in the rain. These are my rules of thumb (a very interesting term, and comments and questions are welcome about it).

1) When it drizzles and I have to use the “pulse” feature on my wipers, I drop 5 MPH off of my dry road speed. I drop 10 until the road is washed off, please see why above about the oily debris. This is because the road is slick, even when washed off somewhat.

2) When it rains hard enough to set my wipers to the “low” steady setting, I drop off 10 of my dry road speed. This has to to with visibility and with hydroplaning. By that time, the oil is mostly off of the road, but now there is a definite deposit of water on the road that wants to separate your tires from the road unless you drive slowly enough that the tread in your tires can throw it out from the contact. Also remember that you are paying more attention to what is immediately in from of you, and not what is coming up in the next half mile.

3) When it rains hard enough to set my wipers on “high”, visibility is severely severly restricted and hydroplaning is likely. I drop at least 15 MPH then, and often more. I like to stay in control.

4) ALWAYS use your headlights when in any sort of rain. That is law in many states, and foolish not to do. I run mine all of the time, regardless of weather, just to assist folks on the road to know that I am there. I almost got into an accident this evening because some idiot, at dusk (in many regards the most difficult time to see other cars) had not turned on his headlamps. I looked and looked, as I needed to make a lane change, and almost ran him off of the road. Fortunately, no contact was made. He flipped me off as I let him back where he “belonged”. I tipped my headlamps at him to remind him to turn on his, but he flipped me off again. Only when an auto coming from the opposite direction also tipped its did he finally turn on his. I can only hope that he felt a bit of responsibility and some regret for mistreating me after that.

5) NEVER tailgate in the rain. Tailgating is bad enough on dry pavement, but in the rain is a deadly thing to do. With wheels locked, stopping distances are several times the ones required for those on dry pavement. Keep at least a ten second count of distance between you and the car in front of you, much longer than the two second one recommended for dry pavement.

6) This might be controversial, but DO report nutty drivers, those who are tailgating, those who are erratic, or those in you estimate are dangerous. Fine the next exit, then use you cellular telephone to call them to the attention of the authorities. If you are traveling with a passenger who can do this for you, the pulling off is not necessary.

7) NEVER eat, use the telephone, or smoke in these conditions. Yes, fellow smokers, I wanted one several times, but fiddling with it takes too much attention. The same goes for eating and talking. Interestingly, it is not handling the telephone that is the distraction, but rather the conversation itself. Listening (NOT TUNING) to the radio is less distracting, but I left mine on a station that I did not particularly like for quite a while when it was bad earlier.

8) WATCH far up the road for brake lights coming on. If you see more than one set, slow down. Better to annoy someone behind you than to rear end someone in front of you, especially at Interstate speeds, where such a collision can cause multiple fatalities.

9) NEVER pull over to the side of a heavily traveled highway because the visibility is too bad. Go as fast as you can maintain control to the next exit, then pull off of the road in a safe place. Remember, it you are having trouble seeing, the folks behind you are as well, and pulling onto the shoulder makes you a target for a catastrophic, and often deadly, collision. Get off the high speed road before you pull over. If you have a breakdown or a flat, you have to pull over. Use your flashers and get out that rain gear that I mentioned before. Get away from the vehicle so if it is hit you will not be it it.

10) Beware of tractor trailers. Normally I have lots of respect for commercial drivers, but many of them go nuts when it rains or snows. Remember, they get paid by the mile, and for them time is money. They will blow by you in the fast lane, and destroy your visibility for a long time. Remember, they weigh 80,000 pounds, so have pretty good contact with the road, and you do not. They are also pretty immune from injury from collision with a passenger car, since they outweigh you over 10 to 1. Good tractor trailer drivers will slow down and take the bite out their income for the good of the many, but in the rain I have seen more irresponsible ones than conscientious ones.

11) DO NOT get in a hurry. I slowed down a whole lot today (well, now yesterday) and got here is one piece. My back hurts from the tension, but I made it here and Youngest Son and I played several games of darts because I lived. It is worth it. Ten or 20 minutes shaved off of a trip is useless if those few minutes make one end up in the morgue.

I have these suggestions:

1) Make it a very large fine not to put on headlamps in the rain. I mean a $1000 one, not a little peck.

2) By Federal law, make the maximum speed limit 60 MPH when it is raining. Those folks blowing by me at 75 certainly were hydroplaning and did not know it. I know how to drive, and sometimes only felt safe at 50 MPH as far as control goes.

3) By Federal law, restrict semi tractors and trailors to the slow lane when it is raining. The water spewed by their tires, even at lower speeds, makes visibility very difficult for others.

4) Send out more police during rain conditions. I drove 620 miles, and saw only three police vehicles, and only one of them was during the rain. I advocate aggressive police enforcement of speed and especially tailgating and passing dangerously.

Well, that is what I learnt today. Any comments are welcome. I shall post this here, try to unwind the knot in by back, and post this at Kos tomorrow evening when more folks might see it before it scrolls off of the screen. I am trying to save lives here, and since it stays on longer here, will post it here now.

Thanks for the wonderful support from this site. If I have left anything out, please add it in the comments.

Warmest regards,



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  1. for trying to keep up all alive this season?

    Warmest regards,


  2. [Rain] caused me to think of what is important to be as safe as possible.  These are important things to know, so please pay attention.  I have very few readers, and would like to keep as many as possible.

    That gave me a laugh.  

  3. on the way to New Orleans, we stopped the rented purple pimp-mobile long enough to snare deep-fried chicken and Elvis tapes, then ball-jacked it down to the Andrew Jackson Hotel.  I think your suggestions mostly rational, tho’ I may not be, entirely so.

    warm regards, Doc.  and Season’s Greetings.

    • TMC on December 25, 2009 at 12:33 am

    You’ve had a rough year, hopefully things will be be brighter this coming year. Thank you for your essays and your wisdom, you are a treasure. You will be in my thoughts this night, working the next 30 hours in the ER.

    Blessed Be. TMC

  4. Very timely.

  5. Yikes.

    Just stay home, would you? Or learn how to?

    It’s so incredibly dangerous.

  6. Thanks for believing that my thoughts are worth enough that others were benefit from them.

    Tomorrow I help move the newlyweds into their first home, then get ready to drive back to the Bluegrass region.  The timing seems to work out better, no rain, nor wind, nor snow forecast on my trip home.

    Warmest regards,


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