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A Guide To Driving Safely In The Rain

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Driving in the rain in North Hills. (Photo by via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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It's true, a little rain can make Angelenos pretty skittish on the road. Perhaps one reason is that we don't see it all that often (thanks drought!), so we don't get the practice that we need. But while we have the reputation of being hell on wheels when water falls from the sky, we're actually no worse than any other city in bad weather, according to a study. Take that, public perception!

Still, with some pretty heavy rain expected to roll in Thursday afternoon and Friday, we thought it'd be helpful to compile some handy tips on how to avoid being another L.A. stereotype on the road.

Check your car

Have you checked the treads and pressure of your tires lately? You should be doing this regularly, regardless of the weather. But with rain on the way, now is a good time as any. Make sure the treads are in good shape and check to see if they are inflated enough (reference the owner's manual for your car's specific PSI requirements). In California, it is state law that gas stations provide free air for customers who purchase gas.

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Another part of your car that you should be checking are your wiper blades. "Those actually go bad every six months to a year," Marie Montgomery, a spokesperson for the Automobile Club of Southern California, told LAist. "In the summer the heat wears them out." Wiper blades can be found at any auto supply store, and are inexpensive.

Also, make sure your car's lights—the headlights, tail lights, brake lights, and hazard lights—are all in working order. This helps with your visibility and makes you more visible to other drivers.

Plan ahead

With the rain comes more collisions, and thus more traffic and delays. Make sure you're giving yourself enough time to get where you're going. Leaving early will also make it less likely that you will rush yourself on the road, thus making you a safer driver.

Apps and websites like Google Maps, Waze or SigAlert will give you up-to-date information on what conditions are like on the road. You're probably always checking it anyway. "As we know in L.A., it can be perfectly clear and sunny and we'll still have the worst traffic in the world," said Montgomery.

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Turn on your headlights

It's California law to turn on your headlights while using your windshield wipers, and it obviously helps with visibility.

Slow down!

"Make sure you are at and well below the speed limit if it's raining hard," says Montgomery. Rain means slick roadways, of course. The California Driver Handbook recommends driving 5 to 10 mph below the speed limit in wet conditions. Also, give yourself more distance between yourself and the car ahead of you. The amount of stopping distance you need increases by two to three times in wet weather. Don't slam on your brakes either.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the roadways are actually at their most slick when it starts to rain. "The first couple of hours, even when it's light rain, you'll have all this oil and materials on the road surface" that haven't washed away yet, says Montgomery.

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If you do end up skidding, don't panic

Skidding, or "hydroplaning," is when your tires lose all contact with the road and are actually riding on a layer of water. This can be dangerous, obviously.

Don't panic, continue to steer the car in the direction you want it to go, and don't slam hard on the brakes. "Just apply the brakes with a steady light pressure," says Montgomery.

Don't drive through standing water

Pools form where the ground is low, and from your vantage point you don't have any idea how deep they can get. You don't really want to find out, anyway. Water can stall your engine when you drive through it—you don't want to be like one of these poor souls from earlier this year.

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Pay attention, duh

Stop futzing with your radio, texting on your phone, or whatever else it is that distracts you behind the wheel these days. You'll want to be alert when conditions are dangerous.