Torrential downpours like those experienced across much of the island this week may be much needed to fill our dams and aquifers, but can cause havoc on the roads.
There are, however, some strategies that can help motorists to stay safe in heavy rain.
Firstly, remember that heavy rain will affect your visibility, so take it slowly. The Highway Code states that the braking distance between you and the vehicle in front of you should be at least two seconds when driving on a dry road, and at least four seconds in the wet – it is even longer on icy surfaces.
British road safety charity IAM RoadSmart (formerly called the Institute of Advanced Motorists or IAM) recommends up to 10 times the braking distance when driving on ice – worth bearing in mind if you motor up to Troodos in the winter.
Your windscreen should be clean, the wipers effective and the jets positioned correctly and aimed at the screen. It is sensible to clean the windscreen, make any necessary adjustments and remove anything from the main area before you start your journey.
A particularly good rule of thumb is that if you need windscreen wipers, then you need your headlights, something that is still not practised by an awful lot of drivers in Cyprus. A lot of cars now have automatic light settings, but these will not always activate in bad weather conditions, so it is up to you to make a sensible decision as to whether these need to be turned on.
As the old saying goes, “better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them” – if in doubt, light up!
If there is water standing in puddles on the road surface, your car is at risk of aquaplaning. This happens when a wedge of water forms in front of the tyre and lifts it up off the road surface. This is caused by the tread not being able to displace the amount of water present.
To recover from aquaplaning, ease gently off your accelerator, have a firm grip of the steering wheel and be sure not to make any sudden steering actions. The car will eventually regain its grip as the water clears.
If roads are flooded, first ask yourself – can I take another route? If not, then you need to identify how deep the flood is. If the standing water is more than six inches deep, avoid driving through it. If you are familiar with the road, you can judge the flood in relation to the kerb.
If heavy rain was not the cause of the flood, then what was? And what impact on the road does it have? For example, if it is a burst water main, the standing water may look like a normal flood but the road surface beneath the water may be completely broken up. If you are unsure how the flood has formed, then avoid it altogether.
Are there other vehicles similar to yours that are safely driving through? From this, make a judgement call as to whether it is safe to travel through or not.
If the water is fast flowing, do not attempt to drive through it, as there is a real danger of your car being swept off the road.
If you have taken everything into consideration and decide to drive through the flood, be sure to do so slowly. The best approach is to press lightly on your clutch and add gentle pressure on your accelerator to increase your engine revs. Do so without increasing your speed, in a similar way to how you would undertake a hill start. This will prevent water from entering your exhaust.
If you are in an automatic car, accelerate slightly but control the speed with your brakes. When you have passed the flood, test your brakes to make sure they are dry and working properly.
If you are in the slightest doubt, then turn around and don’t go through the flood.
Often modern saloon cars have the air intake in the wheel arch, which may be below the water level. If your engine should take in water, it will immediately hydro lock and the engine will stop.
Remember to stay alert and avoid splashing pedestrians. In the UK, if this is done accidentally – even when causing splashes when driving through puddles at the side of the road – you could receive a fixed penalty and three points on your license for driving without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other road users.
If deliberately done, it could be a public order offence, a court appearance and a fine.
Richard Gladman, head of driving and riding standards at IAM RoadSmart, says: “Keeping your car maintained and the rubber (wipers and tyres) in good condition will help you stay safe.
In the recent extremes, we have seen that standing water and floods are becoming more commonplace, so take extra care and if possible, avoid driving through standing water. If you’re in any doubt about the depth or surface underneath a flood, then it’s best not to take any chances.”