If you watch or hear any news at all you’ll be familiar with the terms El Nino and La Nina.
To oversimplify them for the sake of brevity, there’s an oscilation between the two that makes a particular region of the planet either drier than average, or wetter than average.
While the cycle itself is being affected by climate change long-term (and not in a good way), that’s beyond the scope of this article. We’re interested in road safety right now.
The El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has shifted to the positive phase, so at the end of September the Bureau of Meteorology declared a La Nina for much of Australia. In short, BOM said “The remainder of the year is likely to see above average rainfall across the eastern two thirds of the country.”
The reason this has implications for road safety is there is always a substantially increased number of crashes whenever there’s even a little bit of precipitation, so it’s worth being prepared. And the way I see it, there are two categories of preparedness. That is for the vehicle, and for the driver or rider.
FOR THE DRIVER/RIDER
Riders. I know many of you are already contemplating alternatives so as to not take the bike or scooter out to start with.
To those who do still need to go out, be super-careful. You’re not only affected more by poor drainage of surface water and that stupid road-repair method of filling cracks with goo that gets very slippery when wet, but others will also find it even more difficult to see you. Their windows get foggy, mirrors get blurred, and the noise from spray makes it harder to hear other vehicles too.
Drivers. For the same reasons, you must always be hyper-aware of what’s around you because everything from riders to pedestrians to animals will be harder to see.
To everyone. Take some responsibility for controlling your vehicle. Do a course that teaches you what happens in a slide, or find a local club to do a motorkana event on a wet or grassy or dirt surface so you can experience sliding in an appropriate setting with nothing but plastic cones to hit.
Give yourself plenty of space to stop, and don’t be the selfish individualistic creature who plugs themselves into the safety gaps of others, especially not cutting in front of anybody towing or hauling something.
Don’t try to cross any semblance of floodwaters. Drowning isn’t fun, nor is hypothermia, nor is trying to rescue people, and we’ve already seen incidents over winter.
Finally, we need order on the roads, and that’s the reason we have road rules. Good behaviour may feel like conformity, but without it we have super-slow vehicles and illegally-fast vehicles trying to use the same bit of tarmac at the same time, and that just doesn’t work in practice in the wet or the dry.
FOR THE VEHICLE
Make sure your vehicle will deal with wet conditions as best it can.
First off, for anything with a windscreen fit some new wiper blades. They’re a perishable item that needs replacing with some regularity. And keep your windscreen relatively clean so they don’t turn things to mud in the first few wipes.
Also on the topic of being able to see around you, ensure your demisters are functioning properly, and consider using an effective product to clean and minimise the effect condensation will have on your vision including at the sides. A similar principle applies to a helmet or goggles.
Next, take a look at your tyres. Being a legal depth is not enough in emergency situations. Tests have shown that even being just above the legal minimum dramatically compromises your ability to stop (or turn) on wet roads when compared to a fresh set, regardless of any electronic assistance your vehicle may have. You should also choose a tyre that is actually going to perform well in the wet. The hardest-wearing, longest-lasting tyres, generally speaking, are going to have a lower traction rating for stopping distances in the wet, so think of good tyres as an investment in your personal safety.
Finally, there’s the actual vehicle choice. When it’s time to buy a new one, think about how safe it will be on wet roads.
Sam Hollier is an ACM journalist and a motoring fanatic who builds cars in his shed in his spare time.