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How to avoid hydroplaning hazards on wet roads

Expert explains how to check if your tires are safe to drive on

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While investigators have yet to determine the cause of the wreck that killed a Jacksonville Sheriff's officer early Tuesday morning, authorities have not ruled out the possibility that weather played a role.

The officer died following a single-vehicle crash that occurred about 4:30 a.m. along Interstate 295 near Alta Drive on the city's Northside, according to preliminary details released by the Sheriff's Office.

Heavy rain, standing water and low visibility were among the dangerous conditions on the roads when the crash occurred. Those factors lead to slick roads that tend to increase the risk of hydroplaning.

It doesn't take much to hydroplane. In fact, at 45 miles per hour, just one-tenth of an inch of water can send a vehicle veering off the road. Adding dirt and oil to the mix creates a slippery combination.

"You can get a thin sheet of water on the road and you wouldn't even see it... If you hit that water and if you had to make a panic stop, it's not going to happen," said Aaron Nelson, owner of Aaron's Car Care.

So what if you hydroplane? It's important not to panic. Instead, ease your foot off the gas and avoid slamming on the brakes. Then steer your car in the direction you want to go until you regain control.

Safe driving tips during wet weather:

  • When the roads are wet, slow down
  • Leave more room between your car and the one ahead of you
  • Use the center lane to avoid standing water pooling in outer lanes
  • Switch on your headlights, not your hazard lights
  • Take your time getting to where you need to go
Source: AAA

Nelson said making sure tires have plenty of tire pressure and tread depth is key to staying in control of your vehicle, particularly when it comes to wet weather conditions.

"A lot of people think you can wear tires until they're smooth," Nelson said. "Not so much."

Drivers can check their tire pressure and refill their tires with air at most gas stations. But how can they tell when their tires are wearing thin?

Nelson said there's a simple test: place a penny in one of the tire's ridges with Abraham Lincoln's head pointed down. If the tip of Abe's head is visible, it's likely there's not enough tread to grip the road.

If that's the case, it may be time to buy some new tires.