Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Friday, 5 March 2010

Wet Weather Driving

Given the current once-in-a-century floods occurring in the country where I work, I've done heaps of wet-weather driving this week.

Some of the driving behaviour I've observed makes me wonder about my fellow motorists' skill level and common sense.

On Tuesday I did a round trip of about 550km in conditions which could only be described as diabolical. The rain was torrential, and it simply didn't stop.

As a consequence, the surface water wasn't draining and there seemed always to be a centimetre or two on the road. If you look at the pic, you'll notice that the road surface has been damaged (principally by grain trucks) leaving depressions in the wheel tracks on both lanes where water pools.

The trick is to keep out of these depressions to avoid aquaplaning, which is easy when there's no other traffic, but is not always possible when there is.

It also helps to slow down (the road illustrated is 110km/hr limited) and to disengage the cruise control. Even taking these precautions, you could feel the grab at the wheel caused by the tyres shedding litres of water every second, and occasionally the unsettling twitch through the steering characteristic of aquaplaning.

You learn to avoid shiny road. That's a sure sign of a layer of water.

Years ago, whilst driving in the rain near Emerald, I was overtaken by a couple of young blokes in a Falcon wagon, which aquaplaned and fishtailed as they were getting back on the correct side of the road. I had a grandstand view of the consequences, and they weren't pretty. The car left the road and flipped three times, shedding bits and pieces as it went. The battery flew out, and missed my car (a Renault R12) by centimetres and the wreck finished right way up fifty metres off the road.

I had to provide first aid, and flag down a car which was on the way back to Emerald to alert the ambulance which arrived twenty minutes later. I had twenty minutes to consider the consequences of aquaplaning whilst looking after these two. Fortunately, they weren't badly hurt as their seat belts kept them in the car.

Maybe this experience effects how I drive in the rain.

On Tuesday's trip the car I was driving had power assisted rack and pinion steering, which is almost universal these days, and steering sensitivity is of high quality. Understanding how much grip is available is a no-brainer with this setup.

It also has a selectable four-wheel-drive transmission which helps, although engaging 4WD in these conditions seemed to have a marginal effect.

What horrified me was the number of drivers who were acting as if the sun was shining and the road was dry. By this I mean that they were travelling at high speed, and apparently paying no attention to the water on the road. They were also inclined to drive two metres from my rear bumper - not preparing to overtake - just sitting there for reasons beyond my understanding.

It's no wonder that the towies park their trucks at strategic locations on the highway at the first sign of rain.

Sometimes I wonder if the design of the modern car is part of the problem. Motorists are so insulated from the environment these days that they forget (or never learn if they're young drivers) that conditions are a factor. Many drive their cars as if they were involved in a simulation. Unfortunately, the consequences of a mistake or a bad decision in real life differ from what happens in a simulation.

That's one of the advantages of my MX5. Driving it brings you into immediate and total physical involvement with the environment.


Boy on a bike said...

I've had similar experiences driving Sydney-Newcastle in torrential rain. I've slowed down to 60km/h or less at times, only to be overtaken by idiots doing 120 in the fast lane. They appear to just have no idea at all.

"Grendel" said...

I once had to do a run from Cunnamulla to Tambo in a tourist van with one of the 'bubble tops' of fibreglass at the top. It was one of those rare periods of high wind and driving rain and I struggled to keep in on the road. It was a hard drive and the sections of the road under flowing water weren't quite deep enough to stop me but the trip took three hours longer than it should and left me exhausted.

All done as a favour to a mate who was helping out a German film crew doing a doco. He got to drive the pretty female camera operator and sound recorder in a troopie and I got the lonely expanse and roos for company. Bad deal.

"Grendel" said...

Oh - and all that was leading up to - I empathize fully with your efforts on the roads in this weather, although I imagine much of the traffic has ground to a halt fir a week or so!

1735099 said...

I'm supposed to be doing the Cunnamulla - Quilpie - Thargomindah - Eulo loop week after next. There will need to be a plan B.

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