Australia is likely to experience a La Niña weather pattern for the next few months, bringing increased rainfall and higher chances of flooding. Why is this important to drivers? Bad weather can make driving conditions much more difficult (see our article on driving in severe weather). It increases your chances of having to navigate wet road conditions while you’re out and about, and getting caught in a flood on the road.
As a nation of sun-lovers, we’re not always accustomed to driving in wet conditions! Tackling the roads during or after heavy rains can be a scary experience.
What exactly are you meant to do to get to your destination safely if you get caught out in less-than-perfect weather? You’ve probably heard a lot of conflicting information over the years. We’re here to clear that up once and for all.
When avoiding driving on wet roads is impossible after bad weather, here’s how to tackle them with confidence.
What is La Niña?
Many of us are familiar with the El Niño weather pattern which causes drought, reduced rainfall, and generally drier and hotter weather conditions.
In broad terms, La Niña is the opposite of El Niño. In Australia, it normally causes increased rainfall and colder conditions, along with more tropical monsoons and an earlier arrival of the rains.
With more rains comes wet road conditions as well as lower visibility. So the arrival of La Niña often brings with it some difficulty with driving in wet conditions.
This means you’re at a greater risk of needing to make an insurance claim, and therefore be without your car for a time, which is in no way ideal…
Wet road conditions – the dangers
It’s always best to avoid driving through flood water. There are no exceptions to this rule. Driving through flood water can be dangerous, with nearly half of flood-related deaths in Australia caused by drivers tackling flooded roads and bridges.
Firstly, it can be difficult to assess the depth of the water. This is particularly true if you’re unfamiliar with the roads, if it’s dark, or if there’s no real landmarks to use as an indication of the water level. When the water is deep, it’s also hard to tell what might be underneath.
Added to this, it’s easier than you imagine for your car to get swept away too. Flowing water in particular can be very dangerous, even if it’s moving slowly or is a small amount. In fact, just 30cm of flowing water can carry your car away.
On top of being dangerous to drive through, water on the roads can cause problems with a car’s electrical systems and engine. Driving through flood water can also cause damage to your car interior.
So even if you don’t run into any life-threatening problems, you might trigger some significant problems for your car. Which can mean significant repairs. Which in turn may mean you’ll need to claim on your insurance. Is it worth the risk?
If there’s any option whatsoever for you to take another route or wait for the water to recede, do so!
How to navigate wet road conditions
With La Niña promising more rain than usual, most motorists will find themselves driving in the rain over the next few months. If not, you’ll definitely face it at some point in your life.
The most important thing to remember (other than never to tackle flood water or torrential rain!) is that you’ll need to drive much slower than usual.
Because rain makes it harder to hear other sounds, you’ll have to rely on your eyesight even more than usual. Using your lights will give you better visibility of the road ahead and help you to keep an eye out for any debris that might be on the road. Your lights will also help other drivers see you. Remember to defog your windscreen too, keep your field of vision as clear as possible and avoid looking away from your windscreen and mirrors.
Consider further reducing distractions by turning off your phone and radio while you navigate the wet road conditions. Unless you’re relying on the latter for weather updates.
Make sure to leave a longer stopping distance than usual between you and the next car. Even if you’re going slowly. You want to avoid having to brake suddenly when driving on wet roads. Use your brakes earlier than usual to let other drivers know that you’re slowing down, and make sure to brake smoothly and in plenty of time. When it comes to trucks or buses, give them even more distance if possible.
And if there’s really heavy rainfall or hail, seriously consider pulling over until it lets up. If it’s legal and safe to do so, of course. Avoid stopping in heavy traffic areas unless unfeasible and in areas that look like they’re about to flood.
Getting to your destination is on time is never worth risking your life.
Insurance to the rescue
Breakdown numbers always increase during heavy rains and floods, as do the number of car insurance claims.
Not only does the damp cause problems with your car, and the reduced visibility cause accidents, but drivers often make poor decisions and get stranded.
Wet road conditions – over to you
Share your tips on safely driving in wet conditions with other readers in the comments. We’d love to hear them!