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Transportation and Mobility

Your Guide To Driving Safely In The Rain In LA (And Really Anywhere)

A car makes a big splash as it drives through standing water on a city street at night
More rain is forecast throughout this week. Experts caution against driving through standing water.
(Frederic J. Brown
AFP via Getty Images)
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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 studies. Take that, public perception!

A big storm is rolling through Southern California, filled with "atmospheric rivers" bringing heavy rain and cold temperatures through Thursday night. Collisions are already taking place on our streets, so we thought it'd be helpful to bring back these handy tips that never go out of style.

Here's our plea: Please, don't be 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 as good a time as any. Make sure the treads are in proper 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.

Know That Middays Can Be The Most Dangerous

As LAist's Emily Elena Dugdale reported in 2019, researchers from USC's data journalism project Crosstown crunched traffic and weather data and found some counterintuitive patterns.

On dry days, they found that crashes tend to peak during rush hour, when there are more fender benders.

But on rainy days, the researchers discovered most crashes happen during the middle of the day — when there's less traffic.

"Anything that allows you to travel at a normal speed when it's wet is going to dramatically increase the likelihood of a [crash]," said Gabriel Kahn, who heads up the project.

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.

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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.

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," said 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, said Montgomery.

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," said 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.

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.

What questions do you have about the weather we're experiencing?
A massive winter storm is hitting Southern California. We're here to answer your questions.

Updated January 4, 2023 at 4:41 PM PST
This story was updated with current weather information and links.
Updated November 2, 2022 at 10:54 AM PDT
This story was updated with current weather information and links.
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