Wet roads, high speeds drive accidents Published Oct. 5, 2006 By Airman 1st Class Cody Hobart 31st Fighter Wing safety office Aviano Air Base, Italy -- It's no surprise that rainy conditions play a major role in the way we operate our vehicle. More than 450,000 crashes involving injury occur annually in adverse weather conditions on slick pavement, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Hydroplaning is the leading cause of accidents during rainy conditions. Many accidents can be avoided if we educate ourselves on the causes of hydroplaning and make the decision to take preventative measures. Typically, hydroplaning occurs when the amount of water being dispersed by the tire tread is less than the amount being forced under the wheel. A wedge of water is forced under the tire which is lifted onto a sheet of water. When a vehicle skims the sheet of water, all braking and steering ability is lost and the car is transformed into a battering ram striking everything in its path. A vehicle is supported only by four 6-by-8 inch tire footprints. Those few square inches of contact between your tires and the road will determine if you are driving your car or your car is driving you. Hydroplaning begins sooner than most people think; a new tire will start hydroplaning at 45 mph on wet roads with minimal standing water. The same tire with half the tread depth will begin hydroplaning at 40 mph. That doesn't mean 39 mph is the magic number. The faster you drive or with more standing water on the road, the less traction you have and the greater the chances are for hydroplaning. Prior to driving, we should ensure vehicles are in good condition. Tires are the first line of defense when combating hydroplaning. Good tires with proper inflation will reduce the chance of a vehicle accident. The 31st Logistics Readiness Squadron's vehicle inspection publication states that tire tread depth will be at least 2/32 of an inch, or 1 milimeter, over the entire traction surface. To check tire tread, you could be fancy and buy a tread-depth gauge or you can just use a penny. Most people choose to use a penny. Insert the penny into each groove with Lincoln's head down; if Abe's head can be seen above any groove, replace the tire. At the same time it's a good time to check for cracks, cuts or bulges in the side wall. Improper tire pressure is the leading cause of all accidents according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It is important to check tires at least once a month. Tires lose air naturally over time. Tires can also loose air suddenly when driven over potholes or if they strike curbs. Radial tires do not always show signs of under inflation. Proper tire care and maintenance are key preventative measures that should be combined with smart driving. Driving with cruise control during rainy conditions increases the chances of having an accident. The driver doesn't have the feel for the accelerator and the car can accelerate without warning. Uneven traction and the acceleration caused by cruise control can result in loss of control. Do not use cruise control when driving in rain or reduced friction conditions. What can you do to avoid a crash if your vehicle starts to hydroplane? The most important thing is not to panic. Some people panic and turn the wheel to correct steering or apply the brakes abruptly to slow down. Any sudden movements can cause the car to skid and possibly result in loss of control. The first step to take to regain full control of a hydroplaning vehicle is to remain calm and keep the steering in the direction you are traveling. Second, remove your foot from the gas pedal to decelerate and regain traction. In emergencies only, if the car needs to stop, pump the brakes in a car without an anti-skid braking system. Consult your vehicle manufacturer instructions for emergency stopping in vehicles equipped with ABS. When driving we need to understand that we control our vehicle - our vehicle shouldn't control us - and our mission is to arrive alive. Mission success is dependent on adjusting to existing driving conditions. When driving in rain or reduced friction, reduce speed and drive to arrive. Slow down = Piano! One member lost to injury is one to many. Proper vehicle maintenance and smart driving are simply good decision making and planning. Plan! Prepare! Piano! Driving in Italy is a challenge already, so why make it more difficult by driving too fast for road conditions?