Drive safely in all conditions, but especially when rainy

Published 3:15 pm Friday, August 11, 2023

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I think the scariest moment I’ve ever had while driving was on Interstate-95 on my way to visit a friend in Washington, D.C.

I left home that morning with a goal to arrive around mid-afternoon. Things started off well with partly sunny skies overhead, but unfortunately, rain was also on the horizon. By the time I got close to Petersburg and my exit for I-295 was fast approaching, the traffic had gotten thicker and the rainclouds heavier.

The rain started pouring down, and with so many cars and trucks on the road – all still moving at regular interstate speeds – visibilities quickly became a near-impossible task. I turned my windshield wipers up to the highest setting but the road ahead was still a messy blur, like an abstract painting meant for the broadest of interpretations. And because I knew my exit was going to be soon and I couldn’t switch lanes, I was also unfortunately stuck behind a large tractor-trailer, making the visibility even worse.

I don’t think I’ve ever gripped the steering wheel harder than I did for those last two miles, and my whole body tensed up as I kept driving forward.

Luckily, the interstate traffic started slowing as the rain got worse, and I used the two red beams of brake lights from the truck in front of me in order to navigate where the road was.

And then, after what felt like the most perilous five minutes of my life, I took the I-295 exit where the traffic considerably lessened. And after another few minutes, the storm was in my rearview mirror and blue skies had returned up ahead.

The rest of the drive was much less eventful – despite increasing traffic as I got closer to the capital city – and I made it to D.C. without any problems. But that few minutes of driving still sticks with me, even a few years later.

I thought about that moment again last week when I left work during the tail-end of a pretty heavy downpour. In hindsight, waiting an extra few minutes probably would have been better. Ahoskie had been deluged with the rainfall so quickly that the storm drains were inundated and a couple of intersections I passed by were quite flooded. (The intersection of First and Academy, in particular, did not look very safe for cars that were waiting at the red light. I luckily had the green light when I went through and didn’t have to stop.)

The excess rainwater, I assume, probably drained away as soon as the storm passed, making it only a temporary hazard to commuters. But, of course, I kept on driving homewards and didn’t stick around to find out.

What I did notice, however, is that even during heavy rain, there were still some drivers on the road that didn’t turn their headlights on. I counted at least four I crossed paths with on Highway 11 between Ahoskie and Murfreesboro that evening. (There could have been more, but most of my attention was focused on the road.) I realize that it probably feels a little silly to turn your headlights on during the day, but it’s not just to help you see, but also to make your vehicle more visible to everyone else on the road.

It really does help make driving in bad weather easier if you can tell where the other cars are.

Here are some more wet weather driving tips, courtesy of AAA. All are common sense suggestions, but apparently some people need the reminders:

Avoid using cruise control. I know I love using cruise control whenever possible, especially on long stretches of empty roads around here. But if you’re losing traction in the rain, cruise control also slows down your reaction time, because you have to turn it off first before you can adjust your speed.

Slow down and leave room. Dropping your speed on a wet road can help you avoid hydroplaning as you pass over puddles of water. AAA says that even speeds as low as 35 mph will still be enough for new tires to lose some contact with the roadway. It’s also a good idea to increase the distance between you and the car in front of you, so you’ll have plenty of room to slow down and stop if necessary.

Don’t panic when you skid. If your car starts to skid, continue to look and steer in the direction you want to go, and avoid slamming the brakes, which will just make the car more unbalanced and harder to control.

In addition to these tips while driving, you can also prepare for wet conditions before you even get on the road. Check to make sure your windshield wipers and lights are all functioning properly, so that you’ll be able to see and others will be able to see you. You can also check your tires for good tread depths and inflation, which will help your car remain steady and stable on the road.

Overall, please just take a few extra minutes to be safe. If you can avoid driving in the rain and other bad weather, then you should. But if you get caught in the rain anyway, then I implore you to slow down, turn your headlights on, and just drive safely.

We all want to get to our destination in one piece.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.