The Dangers of Using Cruise Control in the Rain

When rain falls on dirty roads, slippery conditions are caused by more than just precipitation. Dirt, oil and grease accumulate on the roads, and adding rain to the mix after a dry spell creates surprisingly slippery conditions. As a Coeur d’Alene personal injury lawyer would explain, rain soaking asphalt causes the oil to float to the surface of the roads. This is hazardous for drivers, especially those using cruise control.

Cruise control allows drivers to maintain a consistent speed and save gas, but may cause them to be less aware of driving conditions because they are driving on ‘auto-pilot,’ only minimally aware of the road. Drivers need to be especially cognizant of road conditions when they drive in the rain because rain creates two unique road hazards on according to the National Safety Commission.

Wet Road Hazards

The first hazard occurs when rain first starts falling after a dry period. This is when oil and grease float on top of the water on the road, creating slippery, ice-like driving conditions. This is especially dangerous in areas where drivers do not frequently encounter ice.

The second hazard occurs when heavy rain causes standing water on the road. When a vehicle’s tires cannot effectively move water through the treads, the vehicle hydroplanes, or rides on top of the water. The National Safety Commission warns that hydroplaning can occur at speeds as low at 35 miles per hour, but is especially dangerous at speeds over 55 miles per hour.

Cruise Control and Hydroplaning

Cruise control makes skidding and hydroplaning more dangerous. Cruise control keeps the vehicle running at a consistent speed and, if the vehicle’s tires lose contact with the pavement, the tires spin faster to try to maintain speed. In addition, the vehicle’s tires may not hydroplane consistently, but cruise control keeps all four tires spinning at the same speed, which may cause the vehicle to skid or spin into another lane of traffic.

Awareness of road conditions and proper preparation keeps drivers safely on the road, even during heavy rainstorms. To recover from skidding or hydroplaning, the vehicle must reduce speed. The National Safety Commission recommends first reducing speed without hitting the brakes, so as to prevent the vehicle from skidding or hydroplaning out of control. Start by disengaging the cruise control, and allow the vehicle to slow. Once you have the vehicle under control, gently apply the brakes to reduce speed. If the vehicle skids, stop pressing on the gas pedal and turn into the skid to regain control. You can then navigate the vehicle back into the proper lane and continue driving.

Many newer vehicles have anti-lock brakes and traction control systems to prevent skidding on slippery roads. However, these traction control systems cannot work effectively if the vehicle hydroplanes because none of the vehicle’s tires are in contact with a solid surface. The best preparation is prevention. The chances of slipping or skidding increase when cruise control tries to accelerate the vehicle, and the driver panics and quickly engages the brakes. The best practice is to leave cruise control disengaged during rainy conditions and pay extra attention to the road conditions.

Thanks to our friends and contributors from Bendell Law Firm for their insight into rainy weather driving hazards.