How to drive safely in torrential rain

Hurricane Joaquin is seen approaching the Bahamas in this NOAA GOES East satellite image taken at 9:15 ET September 30, 2015.
REUTERS

This year's Atlantic hurricane season had been fairly muted -- until Joaquin came along to threaten the U.S. East Coast with torrential rains, high winds and treacherous roads. Even if your area is only on the fringes of a big storm, drivers need to know how to react before getting into a dangerous situation -- and that's certainly not limited to a hurricane.

Heavy rain can cause your tires to lose traction and start sliding -- called hydroplaning. And when confronted with large puddles, you need to be cautious in deciding whether to try to cross the standing water.

Automotive website Edmunds.com has drawn up suggestions for staying safe if you're caught in heavy rain. Here's a closer look:

  • Slow down and turn on the headlights. Leave extra space between you and the car ahead for more time to stop. And the lights help other drives see you. But don't turn on your high beams, which are reflected back by rain droplets and decrease your visibility.
  • Don't use cruise control. If your car starts to hydroplane, cruise control may react by accelerating and attempting to keep up speed -- the wrong reaction. And with cruise control engaged, you may not pay as much attention as you should to the risky conditions.
  • Don't overreact if your car starts to hydroplane. Hitting the brakes hard or turning the wheel sharply can throw you into a skid. Release the gas slowly and steer straight ahead until the tires regain traction.
  • Don't cross standing water unless you can judge its depth. A deep puddle can stall out your car and strand you, while damaging your car's electrical system. Watch cars ahead of you cross the water safely before you go through. And don't assume that if a high-riding Hummer or Jeep got through that your Camry can, too. If you do cross a puddle, tap your brakes lightly to dry off some of the water on the brake rotors.
  • In city or suburban driving, watch carefully for pedestrians. People struggling with umbrellas may not see oncoming traffic as quickly as they usually would.

Nobody likes driving in nasty weather. But if you're prepared with the right reactions to emergency situations, you improve the chances of keeping yourself -- and others -- safe.

  • Jerry Edgerton On Twitter»

    View all articles by Jerry Edgerton on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.