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Driving in the Rain: Dangers & Tips

While it’s sometimes necessary, driving in the rain is inherently more dangerous than driving under normal conditions. Visibility is reduced, and your car has a weaker grip on surfaces. 

Proceed with caution while driving in the rain. Reduce your speed, and get off the road if conditions make it unsafe to proceed.

Dangers of Driving in the Rain

Rain makes driving more dangerous, primarily for two reasons.

The most obvious is that water reduces how much traction your vehicle has with the road. Normally, both tires and the road itself are designed to help a car grip the ground and drive in a predictable manner. Water can break this grip, causing a vehicle to slide. 

A somewhat less obvious danger is that rain reduces visibility. Frequently, this reduction in visibility makes visual conditions similar to night driving, even when driving during the day.

How Rain Affects Your Vision

As rain falls, the water partially blocks light and also distorts any light that passes through it. Additionally, the splashes of raindrops can very briefly block your vision in a way that is often fairly disorienting. As rain falls in greater density or with more force, these splashes can make seeing very difficult. 

Rain can often produce fog, which further reduces visibility, especially in terms of long-distance vision. Effects like this are all cumulative, with conditions like nighttime or the temporary light from the lights of other cars making it even harder to see.

In the case of very heavy rain, the splashing of raindrops on your windshield combined with the dense rainfall and mist blocking how far light can travel can actually reduce visibility so sharply that driving can become extremely unsafe. This is in addition to the dangers these conditions present in terms of increasing your risk of hydroplaning. 

How to Increase Visibility When Driving in the Rain

One important tip to improve your visibility when driving in the rain is to use your lights, but not your high beams. Lights make it much easier for other drivers to see your car in the rain while also helping to illuminate the road for you. Many signs are also designed to be reflective, making them more visible if light hits them.

The issue is that high beams, combined with the way rain already obstructs a person’s vision and can distort light, can sometimes completely blind an oncoming driver as you come near them. This can lead to deadly accidents if they become confused or their car slides at all due to the rain. Where normally a driver might be able to correct, the fact they’re blinded can make a dangerous collision much more likely. 

This blinding effect can also affect you as well, such as if your light bounces off pooling water or similarly wet surfaces.

Tips for Driving in the Rain at Night

Driving at night in the rain is one of the most dangerous situations to drive in that the average person will still experience at some point in their life. Here are some tips for driving at night in the rain:

  • Simply avoid it when possible, especially if the rain is heavy.
  • Drive as slowly as feels necessary to be safe. Driving under the speed limit is generally legal in circumstances where it is necessary to operate a vehicle safely.
  • If conditions worsen to the point where you cannot see basic visual signals like other vehicles and signs, pull over as soon as it is safe to do so and wait for conditions to improve.
  • Understand you are driving under dangerous circumstances and make decisions to reduce any risk to yourself and other drivers as much as possible.

Because night driving while it is raining is so risky, it is important to otherwise drive as safely as you can. Avoid distractions such as podcasts or music, pay close attention to the road and any nearby vehicles, and only drive when necessary. 

Additional Tips for Driving in the Rain

Many of the above tips also apply for more general driving in the rain. As a rule, turn your lights on if you need to activate your windshield wipers, even if the rain is very light. Some other useful wet driving tips include the following:

  • Avoid driving through puddles whenever possible as they dramatically increase your risk of hydroplaning.
  • Treat flooded areas as impassable. Six inches or more of water has the potential to rapidly shift your course without warning or even wash your vehicle away.
  • Don’t allow drivers behind you to pressure you into driving at an unsafe speed. If people tailgate you, pull over and allow them to pass.
  • Take turns and brake especially slowly, as these are the most likely times you will hydroplane.

Vision & Driving in the Rain

If you have trouble driving at night due to vision problems, treat driving in the rain as similarly dangerous. While very light rain may not sharply reduce visibility, heavy rain can create visual conditions as bad as, or worse than, normal night conditions during the day. 

It is very important when considering whether to drive to acknowledge any visual limitations you have. There is nothing shameful about admitting it would be unsafe for you to drive due to poor vision, even if you can drive in normal daylight conditions. While avoiding driving in the rain might be inconvenient, it is much better than willfully endangering yourself, any passengers, and other people on the road.

When to See an Eye Doctor

If you realize your ability to see while driving in the rain or any other scenario has changed, it is a good idea to see an eye doctor. They can help give you a comprehensive eye exam and, in many cases, prescribe corrective eyewear that can help make it safe for you to drive again. 

Some deterioration of vision is essentially inevitable as we age, but doctors can often help you slow the progression of this degeneration and treat any symptoms you might experience.

References

  1. Driving Restrictions Per State. (June 2020). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  2. Getting There Safely—Avoid Driving Disasters. (July 2015). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  3. How to Drive Safely in Heavy Rain. CARFAX.

  4. Safety Tips for Driving in the Rain. GEICO.

Last Updated August 9, 2022

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.