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Caught in heavy rain? Here's what SA motorists should do

2016-07-26 09:54

HEAVY FLOODING: South Africa is experiencing heavy downpours. Make sure you read our guidelines on dealing with flooded roads. Image: Arrive Alive


Dash-cam footage shows a driver lose control of her Daihatsu Charade after hitting a wet and oily section of road at a traffic circle. Watch what happens.

Cape Town - Many parts of South Africa are feeling the full effects of Winter, with torrential downpours wreaking  havoc on our roads in July.

After a blazing summer that saw especially crops and animals succumb to the heat, the much-needed water is not unwelcome. However, though the rain is appreciated and accepted, certain areas, such as KwaZulu-Natal are experiencing severe flooding and motorists are not hesitant to wade through the water.

Driving through water can be incredibly dangerous and cause serious damage to your vehicle.

Read our guide on dealing with flooded roads and adverse weather conditions:

13 tips for driving in the rain:
  1 Always turn on your vehicle’s headlights in wet weather. 
  2 In heavy rain use the brighter (rear fog lights) setting for your car’s tail lights. 
  3 Make sure your wiper blades are in good condition and do a clean sweep. 
  4 Do not allow the inside of your car's windows to mist up. Switch on front and rear screen demisters and your aircon - yes, an aircon dries the air and removes mist almost instantly.
  5 Check your tyre tread: the legal minimum is 1mm but for safety's sake make sure it's treble that.
  6 Worn shock-absorbers don't keep the rubber hard down on the road; no road contact = no ABS, no grip and very little braking.
  7 Cloudy and rain = poor visibility. Take extra care when overtaking - and remember not all drivers coming towards you will have their headlights on.
  8 Adjust speed and following distance; at least six seconds to the car ahead. Ensure you can stop within the visible area ahead. 
  9 Avoid abrupt acceleration, braking and steering which can result in a skid.
10 Don't drive through deep water. It could damage your car and possibly cost you your life.
11 If you have no option but to drive through such water, then drive slowly in a low gear, holding the steering wheel steady.
12 After driving in heavy rain allow your brakes to dry - especially if your vehicle has drum brakes. 
13 If you experience car/bike trouble turn on your hazard lights and try to move completely off the road. If possible, ensure that you have a reflective warning triangle to erect some distance behind your vehicle.

The dangers of rapid, flowing water on our roads: List provided by Arrive Alive 

  • Flowing water applies pressure to contact areas. The higher the speed the higher the pressure.

  • With water that is 1m high it will flow out at a speed of 4.47 meters per second or 16km/h.
  • Water that has fallen only 0.4m reaches a speed of 3.2km/h and can sweep a car off a road bridge.
  • When water touches the underside of a vehicle, depending on the strength of the flow, it can lift a vehicle and even carry it away.
  • A water depth of only 0.6m can float a car.

READ: AA - 'Road safety is literally in your hands'

Johan Jonck from Arrive Alive says: "A major problem is that motorists and drivers are not aware of how little fast flowing water it takes over a low water bridge for a vehicle to be swept away.

"We also tend to assume, at our peril, that the road surface is still intact. Do not take chances and obey road signage. The fact that a double cab 4x4 vehicle manages to cross, is no guarantee that your vehicle would as well! When in doubt, don't!"

For more safety tips click here.

Insurance and driving through water

Arrive Alive reports that the Ombudsman for short-term insurance, Brian Martin, said: “Driving through pools of standing water, which may span across the road, could lead to the potential exclusion of damage to an engine, if water is ingested into the engine.

“Consequently, if your engine is damaged through water getting into the engine without other damage to the vehicle, your insurer may decline liability for any claim for damage to the engine itself. This could leave you facing a very hefty bill." 

READ: Car insurance in SA - 'A necessity, not a luxury'

Tyres vs. standing water

Check the condition of your tyres: Complete loss of adhesion to the road’s surface can come from a combination of smooth tyres and high speed. This causes aqua-planing, with possibly tragic consequences.  

Even with new or barely worn tyres, reduce your speed in the wet and increase the following distance to the vehicle ahead of you.

The dangerous practice of regrooving tyres, which consists of cutting a pattern into bald tread to extend tyre life, should be avoided at all costs. Regrooving the tyre has the effect of exposing the tyre casing, breakers or belts, which can cause the tyre to fail, running the high risk of a crash.

The South African Road Traffic Act prohibits the use of a tyre so worn or damaged that the cord or fabric used in its construction is exposed. The Act also states that the tyre tread should be clearly visible and must be at least one-millimetre deep around the entire circumference of the tyre.

The tyre’s tread displaces water to provide the grip on the road. Smooth tyres’ wet-road grip decreases dramatically as speed increases. The stopping distance required will also increase as the tread pattern wears down. At 120km/h, in wet weather, the road grip of a new tyre can drop to 80%, while that of an almost smooth tyre plummets to 10%.

Read more on:    safety tips  |  driving tips  |  tyres

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