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How to drive in heavy rain and wind

How to drive safely during heavy rain or strong winds is a concern that has crossed the mind of almost every driver.

Here, we look at some things you might consider if the weather forecast isn't looking good. And what to do when driving conditions take a turn for the worse when you're on the road.

Driver driving in the rain


Tips for driving in the rain

It takes just 6 inches of fast-flowing water to knock you off your feet, while 1 foot of water is enough to float a car. In short, water presents huge hazards to motorists.

To stay safe, try the following:

Test your wipers

Before making a journey when heavy rain is expected, turn your wipers on. Ensure they don’t drag as this might mean they’re not working as well as they should.

Kill your speed

Reducing your speed in wet weather should give you more time to react and slow down, cutting the chance of your car skidding into trouble.

Avoid wet leaves

Your car could skid on wet leaves just as easily as on ice.

Beware deep water

If there’s a lot of rain on the road, slow right down and keep in a low gear to avoid the water causing you to stop dead or stall.

Be aware of floodwater on bends

If you don’t know when you’ll come out of the water, take a detour, if it’s safe to do so.

Drive on the highest section of road

Use the edge of the curb to gauge water depth.

Test your brakes

So long as no one’s right behind you, test your brakes as soon as you’re out of the water.

Don’t splash pedestrians

Now this is a common driving law confusion, but we're here to settle the debate.

Splashing pedestrians is illegal and dangerous behaviour that could have an impact on other drivers, as your concentration should be fully on the road.


What's the stopping distance in rain?

It’s well worth giving a thought to stopping distances when you're driving in the rain.

Your motorbike or car tyres might not grip the road during or after heavy rain anywhere near as effectively as they do on dry tarmac.

Also, spray from the vehicle in front could make it harder for you to see ahead.

The Highway Code states stopping distances more than double in wet conditions.

When it comes to how much distance from the vehicle in front is safe enough, the general rule is 2 seconds.

So, for wet and rainy conditions, this goes up to 4 seconds.

This should help give you both the thinking and braking time to stop before slamming into another car, pedestrian or cyclist.

Remember, spotting bikes and people isn’t as easy when you're driving in the rain.


What should the time gaps be between cars on a wet road?

The 2-second rule is a fairly good indicator, but if you want more detail on stopping distances, it goes like this:

Speed (mph) Stopping distance (feet) Stopping distance (car lengths)

Can I drive through flood water?

The simple answer is no - you shouldn't attempt to drive through water. Your car might float or aquaplane in just 1 foot of water.

Any more than that could cause it to stall, resulting in water entering the engine, which could be expensive to fix.

The damage to your car could be higher if the water’s fast-flowing and carries your car into the path of other cars or walls.

Also, visibility might be next to nothing below the surface.

This means that if a tree has crashed down or a manhole cover popped out of place due to water pressure, your car could be a write-off.

Finally, driving through water could endanger your life and those of your passengers.


How to drive through water and floods

You should avoid driving through deep water and floods at all costs, for the reasons above.

However, if it's unavoidable or you've left it too late to turn around, follow these tips:

  • Put your car into first gear if it's a manual
  • Drive slowly
  • Dip the clutch to keep the engine speed high and steady

It's not easy - a slow engine speed might make you stall, but go too fast and your engine might get flooded with water. This is why driving through flood water is best avoided.

Make sure you test your brakes afterwards and don't increase your speeds until you're confident they work properly.


What lights should you use when driving in the rain?

Visibility is reduced when you're driving in the rain and increases the chance of accidents. For this reason the Highway Code says you should switch on dipped headlights as soon as it starts to rain, even during daylight.


Driving in high winds

Driving in high winds, especially where gusts can come out of nowhere could be dangerous.

This is particularly the case in exposed areas, such as on bridges and across marshes and plains, as well as in tunnels.


Is it safe to drive in 50 mph winds?

You can still drive in winds of 50 mph but it's not as safe as in calmer weather conditions, particularly if you're driving a larger vehicle. This means it's best to not drive unless you really need to.

To stay safe, it's important to know how to drive in strong winds. Follow these tips:

Keep both hands firmly on the wheel

This should help you maintain control if your car is buffeted off course when you're driving in high winds.

Be aware of big vehicles

Lorries, caravans and coaches can act like a sail in strong winds, and swerve out of their lane suddenly.

Give them a wide berth, and avoid overtaking unless you absolutely must.

Give cyclists and motorbikes more room

A sudden gust could cause bikers to veer across the road.

Slow down

Every second counts if a tree falls in the road ahead, or another road user falls foul of a gust.


Will my driving test be cancelled in heavy rain or strong winds?

Your driving test may be cancelled if the weather is so bad that driving conditions are considered dangerous. This can include flooding, thick fog or high winds.

Contact your test centre if you think your test may be cancelled. There should be a phone number on your confirmation email.

You may still need to do your driving test during rain. If this does happen take extra care and make sure you double your stopping distances to 4 seconds and avoid deep puddles.


Does car insurance cover flood damage?

Decent comprehensive car insurance policies should cover you for flood damage to your car. However, check your policy if you’re expecting a storm.

It could be the case that your insurer won’t protect you if you parked at the bottom of a hill or next to a river and flooding was predicted.

Also, you might not be covered if you drove into a flooded street where the water levels were more than just a few inches.

These exclusions are included because the insurer might expect you to do everything you can to avoid making a car insurance claim.

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What should I do if my car is flooded?

Put on waders and gloves

Don’t enter flood water without protective clothing, as sewers could have burst, meaning the water is contaminated.

Don’t try to start the car

If your car or engine is flooded with water, leave it where it is. Otherwise, you could cause more damage to the engine, electrics and catalytic convertor by turning on the ignition.

Contact your insurer

They might insist on you using one of their approved garages to fix the problem, and not going through them could create problems with your claim.

Clearly, you have to wait until water levels subside before a mechanic can do their job. The same goes for professional car cleaners.

Take photos

On the off-chance that the insurer disputes your claim, perhaps in relation to the level of damage, this evidence might help.

Make a note of any possessions you have in the car that were ruined, and dig out receipts.

Lock your car

If your car breaks down, don’t panic. Get out if it’s safe, close all doors and windows and lock it.

The last thing you want is someone coming along when the storm has passed and ransacking your car.


Will my car insurance cover me if I drive during a red weather warning?

Your insurer should cover you if you’re driving during a red weather warning, which is issued by the Met Office.

Weather can be unpredictable, meaning there might not be a lot of notice before the event strikes.

All you can do is try to avoid driving in fierce weather.

But if you’re caught in a ferocious storm and an incident occurs, remember that’s what you have insurance for.

Here’s what the Association of British Insurers has to say on the matter:

"Should you be driving during a red weather alert your insurance will still be valid. We do advise that you pay careful attention to all local authority and police warnings.”


What to do if you break down during a storm

Breaking down in a storm is no picnic. A few things are bound to happen that make life even more uncomfortable almost immediately. Other problems might be avoided later on, if you know what to do.

Here are a few helpful hints on what to do and what to avoid in these circumstances:

  • Ensure everyone is safe. If you've broken down on the hard shoulder of a motorway, get everyone to leave the car on the nearside of the vehicle. They should take coats and warm clothing with them.
  • If you have high-visibility jackets as part of your breakdown kit, get everyone to wear them.
  • Before leaving the car, put your parking and hazard lights on. If you have a triangle, place this around 40 feet behind the car if it’s safe to do so.
  • If you didn’t breakdown on a motorway or dual carriageway, pull over to a safe and visible place.
  • Try to get everyone in your car away from the road, and never wait in front of your car. Other motorists might not be paying close attention and could hit your car.
  • If you have breakdown cover, call your provider. If not, you can still call any breakdown company and pay for it to assist you.
  • Trees might be struck by lightning or be blown down in storms, so stand well away from them.
  • Don’t attempt to repair your car in a storm, as other motorists are unlikely to see you. Also, you might drop something that the mechanic needs but can’t be found in these conditions.
  • Don’t prop up the bonnet while waiting for a recovery vehicle. Your engine could be more difficult to start it water gets into the electrics.