Mike Stevens | Dec 13, 2008

There's nothing quite like the smell of an afternoon shower on a stinking hot day. But be warned: the smell of steam coming off the bitumen is a heady reminder to stay off the roads, because there's craziness afoot.

Scientists have worked out what it is in the spring air that causes hayfever. Now I think it's time they find out what it is in the mixture of rain and tarmac that makes motorists allergic to driving properly.

Seriously, guys, what is wrong with you?

I've lost track of the number of people who've flown by me when it's been bucketing down. True, I'll admit that I don't have the lightest of feet when it comes to the loud pedal. Being a Sydneysider, I drive like I'm 15 minutes late everywhere... since I usually am. It's a Sydney thing.

But these speed demons are sailing by at speeds that is sheer lunacy. And what about keeping a sensible distance? Doesn't happen. Even if I was in an all wheel drive supercar with brakes and tyres that could tear asphalt out of the ground, I wouldn't drive like this lot. Because I know, but I'm not sure they do (or maybe they don't care), that there's the matter of a reduction in visibility increasing my reaction times.

It's like these people haven't noticed that water is falling out of the sky. Maybe years of drought have addled their brains, and this burst of speed is a panic reaction. Maybe these cars are driven by rabbits. I don't know.

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All I know is that, at least once recently, I've almost left brown skidmarks because some loon has flown by me, hit the brakes because another car they couldn't really see in the mist of rain and spray has suddenly lit up their brake lights, and made a reflex swerve manoeuvre into my lane. (And I don't like sitting in clammy jocks...)

That's not to say that we don't get the corollary. For every Lewis Hamilton 'wannabe wet weather racing expert', there's the corresponding driver that has mistaken water for molasses and drives like they're getting paid by the hour to be there. Some people will do a good 20-30kmh under the speed limit when it starts raining, which, of course, then sparks off the other mob to weave around them like Betta splendens.

Then there's the multitude of people who clearly can't make out lane markings - I will be generous and assume they actually care about sticking to one lane - but don't slow down and so just weave around cutting in and out of lanes and sideswiping anyone there.

I'm sure that I, like most enthusiast drivers, probably sound like a broken record by now by harping on about driver training. It's unavoidable. It is scary how unprepared people are when they're released from supervision, and how unqualified some of their supervisors must be.

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Besides driving appropriate to the conditions, the first, and simplest, thing that people can learn to do is to turn their lights on. Thanks to years of ignorance, the majority of motorists out there think that the sole purpose of the headlights is to illuminate the road in the dark. However, they can have another function. They can be used so that other people can see you. I'm a big fan of daytime running lights, something that's only mandatory in countries like Sweden and Canada where visibility can be poor for months at a time.

The next time you're driving through the rain or when the sun is low in the sky, take note of how easy it is to see cars with the lights on versus cars that don't. Your headlights and tail lights may not add anything to your ability to see out, but consider how much easier it is for others to see you.

Most motorists sit too close to the car in front already, and quite a few don't adjust that gap in the wet. If you add the water-obscured visibility issue, the first indication you might get to the range of another car is when they hit their brakes... and that might be too late for you.

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In the wet especially, the posted speed for the road isn't an absolute figure. It is not something to aim for regardless of the conditions.

I see people flying through standing water, with no idea what depth they are ploughing through. Sure, most of the time the sheet of water will be millimetres thick and, beside the risk of aquaplaning, will have no material effect on handling. But a deep puddle is another story. It can be like hitting a wall. If you're lucky, you'll tramline through within your lane. At worst, you'll end up in another lane... or into a telegraph pole or another car.

Well, those are the things that drive me crazy. If anyone out there has any other good tips for wet weather driving, or wants to join in the rant against low-performance drivers, drop us a comment. But for crying out loud, it's about time the government trained drivers better for driving in all conditions.

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