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How to Keep Your Employees Safe on the Road During El Niño

  • By Cesar Yepez

California’s weather is famous for being constantly sunny and warm. However, its residents will note that this trend happens to be a myth. Our weather tends to change day-to-day: on Monday there may be sunshine at a constant 85 degrees F, Tuesday has gusty winds and dry heat, and Wednesday shows grey skies and rain from sunup to sundown.

It’s bipolar to say the least, but one pending forecast seems to be certain: El Niño is coming, and we can expect the tidal waves of rain by the start of the New Year.

We may be ready, and even excited, for the rain up ahead, but is your car? It’s obvious that we need to brace our mentality and homes for the weather, but have we equipped our vehicles? Just because it rains doesn’t mean we get to spend the next few months snuggly warm indoors. We are going to have to go outside, head to work, and get groceries at some point, which means we need to drive in the “wet ‘n wild”.

Therefore, we need to be auto prepared. Fortunately, we have the checklist and tricks to keep everyone safely driving during this season’s El Niño storm.

Before Driving: Before we ever step into our vehicles to drive, it is important to check our car’s readiness, and you don’t want to wait until the rain has already hit. Standing in the slop to check your car’s tire traction and windshield efficiency won’t be too fun, so take advantage and check out these precautions while the sun is still upon us:

1. Check Tires:

Tires are the only points of contact between you and the road, and therefore, it is absolutely essential to make sure they are up to date in order to keep you safe. Three important elements stand out when it comes to a tire’s effectiveness and those are its style, traction, and pressure.

The Best Tires: First and foremost, the most rain effective tires currently available are Radial tires. Because of their specialized tread pattern, it allows the tire to have the best road grip no matter the turn angle of the wheel. However, no tire performs as well on dry land as it does in water, even radial tires, and their effectiveness is even more reduced when the tread is worn down. Therefore, it is wise to check your tire’s traction.

Traction: The best trick and tip to see if your tires have the proper amount of tread is to try the “Quarter Method”. Simply grab a spare quarter and insert it upside down into your tire tread. If rubber always covers part of Washington’s head, then your tires have an efficient amount of tread remaining, which happens to be more than 4/32 of an inch according to AAA. However, if the top of Washington’s head is exposed at any point, your tires need replacing because the rubber is too thin to be grip effective. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a tire with less than 2/32 of an inch of tread is highly unsafe, so check out your tires for use. However, traction isn’t the only concern but tire pressure as well.

Pressure: Tire pressure is important because it insures that the tires are operating efficiently according to how much weight is in the car. A tire that is underinflated will sag and eventually cause damage to the car and wheels because the load is not being carried effectively. However, overinflated tires are just as dangerous. Too much air means that the point of contact is too little and not enough rubber is gripping the road. This can cause the vehicle to slide, especially in rain. Therefore, checking tire pressure is significant. To check the recommended pressure of your tires, locate the psi (pound per square inch) on the vehicle’s tire information placard, certification label, or owner’s manual. Bring your car into a local mechanic or dealer to fill your tires to that number. Tires naturally lose air pressure overtime so it is recommended to check the pressure at least once a month (using a tire gauge) to make sure these numbers are constantly up to date and safe.

2. Check Windshield Wipers:

We hardly use windshield wipers in California because it seldom rains, and, when it does, it’s only a heavy misting. Since we are so accustomed to sunshine, we may never get to use our windshield wipers; however, just because they are not in use doesn’t mean they are in good condition. The UV rays from sunlight tend to crack and destroy the rubber lining on the wipers, which means they will not wash away water effectively. When it heavily rains, it’s important to be able to see clearly out your window, but if the wipers are broken, visibility is reduced which is dangerous for driving. Therefore, it is important to check the windshield wiper’s function before its too late.

Thankfully your wipers are easy to check. The next time you enter your car, flip on your front window cleansing system and see how the windshield wipers react to the spray solution. If they streak, smudge, or don’t clear the window during a single cleansing process, it means it is time to replace the wipers.

While Driving: Now that we have addressed taking care or pre-maintenance, it is important to go over safety regulations while driving during the rain.

1.Turn on Lights: Many states have declared a law stating that vehicle headlights are to be on during the rain; however, even if it is not a legal regulation, it is still wise to flip on the lights. Visibility, even during the day, is dramatically reduced during a storm because of the darkened atmosphere, and depth perception is altered because of the quickly moving raindrops, so by turning the lights on, some sight may be restored.

2. Be Weather Aware: Having a general idea of driving conditions and road situations during the rain may help improve your vehicle safety during the next storm. Hence, here are some things to be consciously aware of during El Niño:

Slippery Roads: It may come as no surprise that roads are slick when wet. In fact, the most dangerous time to drive is during the first few minutes of a storm because not only are the roads slick with water, but oils and other greasy fluids are lifted from the asphalt as well and reduce tire traction even more. Therefore, since roads are slick, it’s important to note that cars may slide and have a slowed reaction rate. Consequently, leaving extra room between you and dangers, and paying strict attention to your surroundings, is essential for rain safety.

Break Reduction and Speed: Certain brakes in a car, like drum type brakes, are prone to decrease in stopping power after driving through deep water. Even if your car does not possess these brakes, it is still harder to stop in the rain because of reduced tire traction on the road, so be slow and steady. Speed markers on the side of the road are the legal limit, not minimum, so it’s okay to go slower than 45 miles per hour in a 40 mile an hour zone, despite popular practice. This note is especially critical when it’s raining because more speed over water means less traction and less time to stop. Reduce your speed in the rain and you’ll find that driving becomes easier and reaction time increases. Not to mention, most other cars tend to slow as well, so be safe together and drive slowly.

Car distance: The general rule of thumb for driving is to keep a car’s length distance between you and the leading person. Typically that means you should always see the tires on the car in front of you. However, this rule does not apply when it rains; it’s amplified. A safer regulation when driving is to stay five car lengths away at all times. It seems excessive and a waste of road space but it drastically reduces accidents and mishap during the rain. Why? For the previous reasons mention above: the road is slippery and break traction is reduced. This means that it will take longer to fully stop a car in wet conditions; so, leave more space is needed between drivers.

3. Technology:

Today’s advanced technology is great, especially when it comes to new and updated cars. Now, vehicles have advanced safety features that make driving more enjoyable and secure. However, during the rain, these precautionary technologies may not be so reliable. Avoid using cruise control and collision warning systems during a storm. Cruise control is dangerous on a congested road anyway, but by setting a speed on a slick, wet road, your personal reaction to hazards objects and hydroplaning become reduced. There’s nothing worse than being stuck at a constant speed while sliding on the road; it usually causes an accident with major consequences. Collision warning systems are handy, but it doesn’t take account for stoppage time on a slippery road, meaning that by the time the cautionary “beep” starts, it’s too late to fully stop. Be in control of your own situations and take the wheel and speed in your own hands during the rain.

4. Don’t Rush. Be Late.

Many of us tend to zone out when driving, especially in an area we are too familiar with. However, focus and devout attention are key components in maintaining safety in driving. Therefore, stay alert! Constantly scan the area to be aware of other drivers and potential dangerous around you. Always keep both hands firmly on the wheel, and above all, don’t rush. You may be late to work or a movie showing, but that’s still no reason to put yourself and others at grave risk.

Be late. If you are on the receiving end and someone in the office or classroom is late because of the rain, don’t chastise their delay. Be thankful that everyone was safe arriving to the venue. Remember, the tortoise won the race with a steady pace, and in this case, he was protected in his car even during El Niño because of his focus and safe speed.

El Niño is coming, and we may celebrate the hydration of this dry earth now that we are prepared to receive its downpour. Don’t wait until it’s too late; use these safety measures now to vamp up your vehicle for the upcoming few months. It may save your skin!

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