Commuting during specific seasons can bring different safety and efficiency issues for drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians alike. One such factor is the rain that many parts of the country experience in the fall and winter months.
While we’ve discussed ways to drive safely during autumn, it doesn’t hurt to look at how to handle rain in particular. No matter how you get to work when it’s wet out, here are some tips to get you there dry, safe, and on-time.
• Give yourself space
Give yourself an extra car length of space when it’s raining. Your reaction time decreases when the roads are wet, and the likelihood increases of hydroplaning, skidding, or not being able to stop for someone else’s hazardous driving.
Give bicycles five feet of space, but be sure not to drive into oncoming traffic to do so. Also take care not to drive right next to the curb—and right into puddles that are going to splash pedestrians.
• Choose moderate speeds
The faster you drive in the rain, the more likely you will be to find your tires losing their grip on the road. Choose a speed that is at or below the speed limit—but not so slow that you endanger other drivers going at faster speeds.
Keep in mind that wet brakes have a harder time gripping, just like wet tires. This means that if you do have to stop suddenly, your brakes may have to work harder.
• Use lights and wipers
Make sure your lights are on when driving in the rain. This ensures that other drivers see you coming.
Having your lights on also helps bicyclists and pedestrians see you, which can allow them to get out of your way if you drive too close to them.
Lights can help increase drivers’ visibility of one another, but it is also important to use your windshield wipers. After all, the wetter your glass, the harder it will be to see through.
Check your windshield wiper blades to be sure they’re in good condition and don’t need to be replaced—especially after a long, dry season when they might have dried out and become useless. Old, crusty blades may help a tiny bit, but they’re no substitute for properly functioning wipers.
• Make yourself reflective
You should already be trying to make yourself visible during nighttime biking, but it’s imperative that you do so any time it rains. Whether you choose a reflective vest, extra reflectors, or bright-colored clothing, you should try to outfit yourself in the best way possible to ensure that other drivers and bicyclists see you on the road.
• Use waterproof gear
Biking in the rain can be utterly miserable if you aren’t wearing appropriate gear. You’ll arrive at work much more comfortably if you bike wearing waterproof bike pants and a jacket, gloves, and even a hood. Sure, it may look goofy—but at least you’ll be dry.
You can also save your stuff from the rain by using a waterproof bag or pannier.
• Avoid busy streets
Even in reflective clothing, with your lights on, you may not be visible to drivers in a rainstorm. Avoid streets with lots of traffic and opt for residential routes, side streets, and bicycle paths.
By Bus or Train
• Be conscientious of neighbors
When commuting with public transit on rainy days, we find ourselves in close quarters with a lot of wet people. Try to be a conscientious neighbor on the bus or train by shaking water from your umbrella before boarding, not carrying tons of stuff with you that day if possible, and not setting wet stuff on the seat next to you.
Nobody wants to sit on a wet seat or have someone else’s wet stuff touching them. Imagine how you’d want your neighbors to act, and try to make the experience better for everyone by doing your part.
• Plan for delays
More people tend to take public transit on wet days, especially those who might normally walk or bike. More people drive, too, which creates extra congestion and traffic delays.
Expect the worst on rainy days and try to catch your transportation earlier than normal. You should assume that the train will be very full, and that you might have to stand or wait for the next arrival.
• Choose waterproof outerwear
Sometimes an umbrella is all you need on rainy days, and sometimes you also need a hooded, waterproof jacket and galoshes. Especially in driving wind and rain, you may need to try harder to protect yourself from getting wet.
• Stay close to buildings
The farther you walk from the street, the less likely you will be to find yourself soaked by a wave of water from a car passing too close to the sidewalk. You may also be able to take shelter beneath buildings’ eaves as you walk.
• Have light at night
Remember that rain decreases drivers’ and bicyclists’ visibility. Wear bright or reflective clothing if you have to walk in the rain at night.
To be extra safe, consider carrying a flashlight to cut through the darkness when you have to cross the street. Even if there’s a crosswalk, drivers may not see you walking there until it’s too late.
Regardless of how you’re commuting, you should be vigilant during rain showers. Drivers need to take extra care to watch for people biking or walking; bicyclists need to assume they aren’t as visible to cars and be careful to look for them; pedestrians should also assume they’re not as visible to those driving and biking, and they should pay attention to the paths they choose to walk.
If everyone watches out for one another, practices safe commuting techniques, and dresses for the weather, there will be fewer accidents and wet starts to the workday.