Don’t let the risks of rain dampen your summer journeys
  • South Africa’s rainy season comes with a number of road hazards that can be very dangerous for drivers
  • Drivers in South Africa are urged to educate themselves about the increase of road accidents during the rainy season
  • Rainy season education has become a paramount importance for South African drivers in order to reduce the high rate of road accidents

Drivers urged to educate themselves about increase of road hazards during the rainy season.

With the much-welcomed beginning of South Africa’s famous summer comes the accompanying rainy season across many of our country’s provinces. Even a small amount of water on the road can create dangerous, yet too-often unexpected conditions for drivers.

Education around rainy season road hazards is of paramount importance for a nation desperately in need of a reduction of a distressingly high rate of road accidents. 

“Local road users are no strangers to tackling an array of threats across our roadways, many of which are avoidable but unfortunately commonplace. This is due, in part, to a severe lack of understanding and enforcement of road user regulations, as well as neglected and deteriorating infrastructure,” says Justin Manson, of Bridgestone’s smart mobility company, Webfleet, and expert on the local and global vehicle technology sector.

“While avoiding these common threats has become second nature for many of us, drivers are urged to be educate themselves about the lesser-known, but nevertheless highly dangerous hazards that occur during seasons of rain,” Manson warns.

Slippery when wet

Perhaps the most familiar risk of driving in wet weather is aquaplaning, also known as hydroplaning. This occurs when a layer of water, most commonly rainwater, comes between the wheels of a vehicle and a road’s surface. This causes a loss of traction, leading to loss of control of a vehicle.

This can be the cause of serious collisions when coupled with high-speed driving. Because speeding is rarely prosecuted, it is a top contributor to our nation’s infamously high road accident death toll and is a risk that multiplies exponentially in wet weather.

Don’t get slipped up by oil secretion

During dry seasons, large volumes of oil leak from vehicles and soaks into concrete and asphalt (tar) road paving. When early bouts of seasonal rain saturate road surfaces with rainwater, this build-up of oil secretes from the road, and comes to rest on top of the wet road surface.

These oil patches are extremely difficult to see, even when visibility is good, and frequently catches unwary drivers off-guard. Driving over oil patches above water can lead to a complete loss of control of a vehicle, even while travelling at low speeds.

Not-so-smooth sailing

Smooth tyres pose a number of dangers to drivers and those around them, so it is vital that road users ensure their vehicle’s tyres are in good condition. Smooth and damaged tyres increase the risk of tyre blow outs and impair a vehicle’s braking system, which can cause serious accidents on the road. Smooth tyres cannot grip the road effectively, which can cause your car to skid or slide on the road and crash into obstacles. Your vehicle’s ability to safely manoeuvre in rainy weather is drastically reduced when relying on smooth tyres, which do not  have sufficient tread to displace water on wet roads. Ensure your tyre health in all conditions by regularly maintaining the correct tyre pressure, taking care to note tyre and vehicle load limits, and inspecting tyres for any irregularities such as cuts or tread separation. In addition to increasing safety, healthy tyres also have a longer life-span, reduce fuel consumption and improve your vehicle’s handling.

Trucking about spatial ignorance

Large trucks and smaller passenger vehicles have vastly different braking and manoeuvring capabilities. Large automobiles require much wider turning angles, especially more so when roads are wet and slippery.

Many regular drivers may not realise this fact and accommodate for it, which can result in devastating collisions, in which cases the smaller vehicles and their drivers are most often worse off.

Surviving truck drivers often bear the brunt of the blame for incidents, however reports indicate that other road users are among top causes of truck-related accidents. This is a fact that is backed up by technology such as in-cab cameras, AI-based monitoring of fleet driver behaviour, and real-time vehicle tracking.

An invisible and present danger

Rain softens roads, and the edges of potholes, too. While potholes are a common sight along many of our local streets year-round, wet weather presents a much higher risk of pothole-related incidents. Rain can fill potholes and fissures, camouflaging them amidst wet roads and making them much harder for drivers to spot.

Adding to this risk, in many cases potholes that already existed during the dry season, when the roads are much harder, quickly dilapidate and grow in size and depth, thanks to soft, rain-soaked road surface. Even if you’re extremely familiar with a road and its condition, concentration and careful driving is always essential, especially so during or after wet weather.

The robot down-falling (and their alarming new alternative)

Also, an already common occurrence no matter the season, rain causes major increases in frequency and locations of traffic light outages. Uniquely known as ‘robots’ by most South Africans, this local label may bring to mind futuristic innovation for those abroad.

To local drivers, however, the word’s meaning has little to do with such advancements. In fact, we feel quite the opposite about robots, due to our ultra-aged and decrepit traffic light infrastructure.

Rainfall wreaks further havoc on traffic light functionality across vast networks of roads, exacerbating this long-running irritation (and significant danger) to drivers.

However, instead of drivers adhering to the legal alternative of multiway stopping, a treacherous new trend has recently emerged thanks to our lack of lights. Regular pedestrians have been taking to downed intersections, succeeding in commanding the flow of traffic in major intersections.

Seemingly good Samaritans, these individuals actually pose a serious threat to road users, particularly when drivers’ nerves are on edge due to compromised visibility caused by rain, coupled with the stress of heavy traffic.

That being said, oftentimes when sets of robots are in proper working order, they are blatantly ignored by many drivers and public transporters, another systemic result of our lack of road law enforcement.

So, don’t blindly follow these either. Always proceed with caution at crossings: you as a driver are ultimately responsible for any action you take while behind the wheel, no matter the form of traffic control, or what it tells you to do.

Country road, take me home… Safely, please 

“We are all aware that our roads can be dangerous at the best of times, which is a huge frustration for travellers, as well as public and private sector organisations working towards a safer South Africa,” Manson adds. “We beg all drivers to educate themselves on the risks most prevalent during the rainy season, which coincides with the summer holidays for many of us. We call on everyone using our beautiful country’s roads to make their journeys safer. We each have a responsibility to ensure our summer continues to be famous for unforgettable sho’t lefts and road-trip adventures, whether bathed in SA’s legendary sunshine, or soaking in our epic rainstorms.”