Are LA Drivers Really That Bad At Driving In The Rain?

Motorists ford a flooded street in Sun Valley, California during a powerful storm on Feb. 17, 2017. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

With all this rain and chaos on the roads, we wondered: do Los Angeles motorists really deserve the oft-repeated rap that they can't drive in the rain?

Between hydroplaning big-rigs and disaster-sized backups, things certainly seem crazier than usual on our rain-drenched roadways this week. And they probably are.

Data abound on how crash rates double in L.A. during rainstorms.

Noah Deneau, an electrical engineer and data enthusiast, created a visualization of California Highway Patrol crash numbers for L.A. freeways covering a decade, comparing collision rates during rain against dry weather averages. He found crash rates increased up to 100 percent during certain periods of the day.

Graph showing the average car crashes per hour in L.A. The blue bars represent crashes that take place during rain, and the red bar when it is dry. (Image Courtesy of Noah Deneau)

But are L.A. drivers unique in their inability to handle wet roads?

"Absolutely not," said Paul Pisano, who manages road weather programs for the Federal Highway Administration and has studied the topic.

He cited several studies that show injury collisions double or even triple during bad weather across the country. So Los Angeles drivers are just average when it comes to rainy weather collisions.

Pisano admits that his own experience driving in L.A. during the rain was pretty nightmarish. The high traffic volumes on the roads here can tend to exacerbate drivers' experiences, he notes.

However, L.A. drivers may have legitimate excuses for slipping and sliding on wet roadways, given the Mediterranean climate.

"After a long dry period, there is certainly grime, oil, other materials on the roads, and when you have the first rain of the season, they rise to the surface," he said, causing hazardous conditions.

The good news, according to research by public health professor Daniel Eisenberg, is that the roads and our driving habits tend to improve as the rain continues. And since we'll be seeing more of it this week, accidents should decline.

The bad news is that once we get back to a dry spell, we forget what we learn and road conditions worsen once more. So come another rainy period, accidents will spike again.

What do you think: do we deserve our bad reputation as drivers in the rain? Tell us in the comments below or tweet us @LAist.

A version of this story was originally published on KPCC.


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