Wet Weather Worries

How can teens drive safely during southern California’s rainy season?

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Wet Weather Worries

Driving conditions on the west coast are different from driving on the east coast

Driving conditions on the west coast are different from driving on the east coast

Artwork by Aidan Scott

Driving conditions on the west coast are different from driving on the east coast

Artwork by Aidan Scott

Artwork by Aidan Scott

Driving conditions on the west coast are different from driving on the east coast

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Since the start of the water year — a term for the 12- month period when precipitation is tracked — downtown Los Angeles experienced 15.5 inches of rain, surpassing the expected yearly average. In some parts of Southern California, cities saw the wettest days in decades.

While California may be the pinnacle of warmth, with its sandy beaches and temperatures in the 90s, wet weather has taken over the sunny culture — at least this winter. With rain becoming more present in California’s forecasts, it’s important for teens to know how to drive safely in slick conditions.

Executive Director of the National Foundation of Teen Safe Driving, Roy Bavaro, wrote to the Talon that even the most cautious teens are at risk.

“Teen drivers believe they are cautious drivers. However, they are always inexperienced drivers, and inexperience is the primary factor that leads to teen crashes,” Bavaro wrote. “Even the best and brightest teen drivers have increased risk of being involved in a deadly crash when compared to adult drivers.”

But how does driving in the rain compare to driving in the usual sunny California atmosphere?

According to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, on average, 70 percent of all major weather-related crashes are on wet pavement, with 46 percent occurring during rainfall. In addition, rain-related injuries made up 51 percent of all weather-related injuries.

Many of these accidents can be attributed to what motorists call “road film.” An accumulation of oils and fluids that leak from motor vehicles, road film coats the roads and can get on your car. When it begins to rain and the road film mixes with water, the oil rises to the top and creates slick conditions that make driving slippery and dangerous.

In addition, even though states like Florida, who is No.5 on the rainiest states in the US yearly, receive more rain than California, our roads are actually more dangerous. Due to California’s dry spells and general lack of rain, road film and oil tend to build up on roads, making them slicker and more hazardous to drive on.

When driving in wet conditions, many people falsely believe that driving below the speed limit is a solution. However, driving too slow can also cause problems, too. Extremely slow drivers tend to cause traffic backups behind them and are more prone to swerving and slamming their breaks suddenly. Ideally, drivers should drive at a safe, median speed.

According to AAA(Automobile Club of America), if you find yourself skidding, try to stay calm and follow safety procedures. If your car starts to swerve or skid side-to-side, steer in the direction of the slide, remove your foot from the gas pedal and do not slam on the brakes. If your car has anti-lock brakes, press down firmly to slow down after you regain control. If it does not have anti-lock brakes, steadily pump the brakes in order to achieve stability. In addition, keep blinkers on so other drivers can recognize vehicles and know to avoid crowded/occupied areas.

Furthermore, AAA advises that in order to prevent hydroplaning, avoid standing water on highways and roadways. Standing water can mask potholes and other debris in the road which may cause serious damage to a vehicle. It can also reduce the effectiveness of your car’s brakes. You should also drive in the tracks of cars in front of you as they can help clear paths through any standing water.

“If you are driving on a multi-lane roadway or highway, stay closer to the middle,” Bavaro wrote to the Talon. “Roads are designed so they are higher in the middle, with a slope to aid drainage off to the side. This will help avoid standing water.”

Artwork by Aidan Scott
Click on the photo to learn more about how weather events impact roads

In order to have maximum control of your car, you should keep both hands on the steering wheel. This means that it is important to put down any distractions, such as cell phones, food or conversations with a passenger. Prior to rainy season, drivers should get their windshield wipers checked regularly as they can be crucial during rainstorms.

Furthermore, in especially heavy rainstorms, it is imperative that drivers are aware of their surroundings and watch out for collapsed pavement, mud, fallen rocks and other debris flow. According to the Red Cross, drivers should listen for sounds that might indicate of an impending mudslide, such as trees cracking or boulders knocking together.

Many Oak Park High School students try to take more precautions when driving in wet conditions.

“I definitely drive slower in the rain,” senior Kailani Johansson said. “I take it easy on turns and take a little longer to accelerate out of stops to ensure that I don’t hydroplane and my wheels can grip the road.”

Some students anticipate safety precautions associated with braking, as well.

“In the past week, I’ve been trying to leave more space between me and the car in front of me,” junior Anushka Sengupta said. “I want to make sure that in case I have to brake, I don’t hit the other car.”

For new drivers, the rainy streets can be a daunting task.

“As a new driver, it’s definitely a scary experience,” Sengupta said. “It’s an additional level of pressure.”

Rain can also make the drive to school for students much longer than usual. A 2011 study found that there are more hourly car accidents in Los Angeles in the rain compared to an average drier day. This can cause traffic backups and delays. Assistant Principal Jason Meskis, attributed this to the infrequency of precipitation.

“I think that people in California aren’t used to this sudden change in weather,” Meskis said. “So, when it does rain, they are more erratic in their driving style.”

Meskis also had a solution for students who might be worried about arriving late to school.

“Plan to leave the house earlier,” Meskis said. “That way you can have plenty of time to drive safely and reach campus on time.”

Even with advancing technology that helps driving safer, Bavaro said that the human driver is ultimately in control.

“Human error and dangerous choices people make behind the wheel will continue to be the primary factors that lead to a fatal crash,” Bavaro wrote. “That’s why it is so important to always be reminded of the risks inexperienced and all drivers face, the evidence-based solutions, and the commitment to safe driving habits that will stay with you throughout your lifetime.”

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