What Is Aquaplaning?

Aquaplaning, also known as hydroplaning, is a hazardous driving condition that takes place when a vehicle’s tires lose contact with the road surface due to excess water. This phenomenon leads to a temporary loss of control and it can happen in an instant or persist for a distressing length of time​​.

Aquaplaning occurs when standing water on the road, such as puddles, prevents the tire treads from making direct contact with the road surface. The risk escalates with the amount of water and is particularly high shortly after rain begins, as the water has yet to drain away​

The Mechanics of Aquaplaning

Heavy rainfall can cause water to build up on the surface of roads, especially if the road surface is smooth. As a vehicle moves through this water, the tires may encounter more water than they can displace. If the water in front of the tire builds up to the point where it exceeds the tire’s ability to displace it, a layer of water forms beneath the tire. This layer lifts the tire slightly off the road and leads to a loss of traction.

Types of Aquaplaning

There are three types of Aquaplaning:

  1. Dynamic Aquaplaning
  2. Reverted Rubber Aquaplaning
  3. Viscous Aquaplaning

Dynamic Aquaplaning

Dynamic aquaplaning occurs where a layer of water is too thick for tires to displace creating a loss of friction and control. This phenomenon can cause an aircraft to skid uncontrollably during high-speed operations, such as landing or takeoff.

Reverted Rubber Aquaplaning

Reverted rubber aquaplaning occurs when a tire overheats from heavy braking skids on a wet runway. The friction from skidding can vaporize water, forming a cushion of steam that further diminishes traction, potentially leading to loss of braking effectiveness and directional control.

Viscous Aquaplaning

Viscous aquaplaning is less about water depth and more about surface texture. It happens even at low speeds when the runway is exceptionally smooth and the water layer is too thin to be dispersed by the tire treads. This creates a slippery film between the road and the tire that reduces tire-road contact.

Viscous aquaplaning also occurs on icy roads. Interestingly, a greater water depth can prevent this type as the hydrodynamic effects take over, and it is more likely to occur on smooth surfaces like asphalt.

The Factors Influencing Aquaplaning

Aquaplaning is influenced by:

  • Tire Tread Depth: Worn tires with insufficient tread depth can’t channel water effectively.
  • Vehicle Speed: Higher speeds increase the risk as tires have less time to displace water.
  • Water Depth: More standing water means more risk for the tires to lose contact with the road.
  • Inadequate Air Pressure: Overinflated tires can be more prone to aquaplaning as they have to displace more water due to less contact area with the road.

How to Handle Aquaplaning?

If you find yourself in a situation where your vehicle starts to aquaplane, it’s essential to remain calm. Avoid sudden movements such as hard braking or abrupt steering. Instead, gently ease off the accelerator and hold the steering wheel steady until you feel the tires regain traction. If necessary, lightly apply the brakes if your vehicle is equipped with anti-lock brakes (ABS). If there is a chance of collision with a vehicle in front of you, use emergency brakes immediately.

How to Prevent Aquaplaning?

  • To prevent aquaplaning, it is vital to maintain good tire health, with adequate tread depth and grooves being crucial. Choose tires with wide and deep circumferential grooves that effectively resist aquaplaning.
  • Make sure to properly inflate your tires. Overinflated tires increase the risk of aquaplaning as the tire contact area is decreased.
  • Moreover, keeping the speed slow on wet roads especially standing water can significantly reduce the risk of aquaplaning.