Standing water caused by wet and rainy weather can create hazardous road conditions, increasing the risk of aquaplaning from occurring. 

According to insights from the Met Office, the UK experiences over 150 days of rainfall every year, making aquaplaning a hazard that every driver should be well-prepared to tackle.

In this article, we’ll discuss the meaning of aquaplaning and explain what to do if you aquaplane.

What is aquaplaning?

Aquaplaning, also known as hydroplaning, occurs when water accumulates between a vehicle’s tyres and the road surface.

Aquaplaning results in a loss of traction, causing the driver to potentially lose control of the vehicle’s steering, braking and acceleration. This typically happens when a vehicle is travelling at high speeds on a wet road, and the tyres cannot effectively displace the water on the road surface.

How do you know if your vehicle is aquaplaning?

If you haven’t experienced aquaplaning before then you won’t necessarily realise that it is happening to you. However, you can recognise that your car is aquaplaning by the following signs:

A steering wheel that feels lighter to turn

The layer of water between your vehicle’s tyres and the road surface can make the steering wheel suddenly feel lighter or less responsive. This happens because there is a lack of traction between the tyres and the road, making it harder to control the direction of your vehicle.

The car won’t respond to steering

Aquaplaning can cause your vehicle to become unresponsive to steering inputs. This is because your tyres are making direct contact with the water rather than the road, making it difficult to steer the vehicle in the intended direction.

Revs flare up causing the wheels to spin

When your tyres lose grip and start to spin, your engine revs may increase despite there being no increase in acceleration. This signals that your tyres are not effectively making contact with the road surface due to the layer of water.

Brakes don’t respond as expected

Aquaplaning can impact your ability to brake as expected. When your tyres are not in contact with the road surface, your brakes may not be as responsive as they should be, and it can take longer for your car to slow down or stop. For this reason, you must maintain the appropriate stopping distance for the conditions of the road.

Engine is noisier

When your engine revs due to the wheels spinning, you may notice that your engine is noisier than usual. If your engine is noisier this can be a warning sign that your vehicle is aquaplaning.

The back end of the vehicle is drifting from side to side

When aquaplaning happens, your vehicle may become unstable causing the rear end of your vehicle to drift from side to side. This is particularly dangerous as it can lead to a loss of control over the vehicle.


What causes aquaplaning?

Aquaplaning occurs when there is standing water on the roads, meaning the risk of this occurring is more prevalent during periods of wet weather. In addition to standing water, the following factors can increase the risk of aquaplaning occurring:

Water levels

Aquaplaning occurs when there’s a thin layer of water on the road surface. As little as 2.5mm of water can be enough to initiate aquaplaning. Deeper water or standing water on the road surface increases the risk.

Vehicle speed

The faster you drive, the more likely you are to experience aquaplaning. Higher speeds reduce the time available for your tyres to push water out from underneath them, leading to a loss of traction.

To reduce the likelihood of experiencing aquaplaning it is crucial to drive to the conditions of the road and maintain an adequate stopping distance to the car in front of you.

Tyre conditions

Tyres are designed to channel water away from the area of the tyre that touches the road; for this reason, tyres with low tread depth cannot effectively disperse water, leading to a loss of traction and increasing the risk of aquaplaning. Additionally, vehicles with wide low profile tyres are more vulnerable to aquaplaning.

What to do if you aquaplane

If your vehicle starts to aquaplaning, maintaining composure and regaining control of your vehicle should be your immediate priority. Here are our top tips to control an aquaplaning vehicle:

1. Don’t hit the brakes. 

When you start aquaplaning, it’s crucial not to apply the brakes abruptly. Hitting the brakes can make the situation worse as it can cause your wheels to lock up, making it even harder to regain control. Instead, refrain from using the brakes until your car regains control.

2. Slowly ease off the accelerator

Gently ease off the accelerator as this reduces the speed of the vehicle and can help you to regain control. Avoid sudden or jerky movements, as they can worsen the situation.

3. Keep the steering wheel straight

Maintain a straight path by keeping your steering wheel as straight and steady as possible to allow your tyres to regain grip. Don’t attempt to make any abrupt steering corrections as they can cause your vehicle to skid or spin.

4. Turn off cruise control (if applicable)

If your vehicle is utilising cruise control, turn it off. Cruise control is used to maintain a constant speed, which is not suitable when aquaplaning as you need to have full control over your vehicle’s speed during this situation.

5. Slowly begin to brake when you regain control

When your tyres have regained traction with the road, you can gently apply the brakes to either slow down or come to a complete stop. Make sure your braking is gradual and controlled to prevent further loss of traction.


How to avoid aquaplaning

There are a number of things you can do to avoid aquaplaning, key actions include:

Plan ahead

Before embarking on your journey, check the weather forecast and assess road conditions. Plan your route accordingly, and if possible, try to avoid driving in heavy rain or during severe weather events. By planning ahead, you can make informed decisions.

Understand the conditions of the road

Road conditions can change in wet weather and factors such as oil spills or accumulated mud can make the situation worse. Make sure you drive to the conditions of the road and be extra cautious when driving in hazardous conditions.

Watch your speed

You should always drive at a speed appropriate for the road and weather conditions. Driving at a lower speed improves the traction between your tyres and the road surface.

Drive smoothly

In wet and rainy conditions, avoid making any harsh or sudden actions such as accelerating too quickly or hard braking. Smooth actions allow your tyres to maintain better contact with the road surface, reducing the risk of losing traction and aquaplaning.

Follow the track

If there is a vehicle in front of you, try to drive in the tyre tracks left by them. These tracks tend to have less water accumulation and better traction. However, maintain a safe distance behind them to ensure that you are able to react to sudden braking or changes in direction.

Keep your tyres in good condition

Poor tyre condition can contribute to aquaplaning, for this reason, it’s essential to regularly check your tyres to ensure that they are in good condition and inflated properly.

The legal minimum tyre tread is 1.6mm, however, for optimal safety in wet conditions, it’s advisable to replace your tyres before they reach this legal limit. Many experts recommend having a minimum tread depth of at least 3mm to maintain good wet-weather performance.

Maintain appropriate stopping distances

Double your usual stopping distance when driving in rainy and wet conditions to account for the loss of your car’s tyre traction.

Don’t use cruise control

In wet and rainy conditions, cruise control may cause you to drive too closely to other vehicles, reducing the likelihood of being able to effectively react to situations. You want to have immediate control over your vehicle in poor weather and road conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions