Heavy rain, aquaplaning and flooding: Advice for motorists this autumn and winter


24 October 2022

Press Release

Heavy rain, aquaplaning and flooding: Advice for motorists this autumn and winter

Motorists are being warned of the dangers of aquaplaning and other hazards this autumn and winter if they drive amid heavy rainfall.

National Highways has produced online guidance on its website to handling different weather conditions when weather gets colder in an effort to keep road users as safe as possible on its motorways and A-roads.

While rain is frequent throughout the year, it is particularly common over the autumn and winter months, with the possibility of floods, slippery road surfaces and reduced visibility for drivers.

In heavy rain, drivers should keep well back from the vehicle in front, gradually ease off the accelerator if the steering becomes unresponsive, and slow down if the rain and spray from vehicles makes it difficult to see and be seen.

There are lots more travel tips, vehicle checks and useful motoring advice for negotiating severe weather on the National Highways website, in keeping with the Safer Roads Campaign, to help improve driver confidence when travelling as temperatures get colder, the nights draw in and the potential for fog, rain and high winds increase.

Stephen Basterfield, National Network Manager, at National Highways, said: “Even light or moderate rain can have an impact on visibility and vehicle performance, so it’s important to adjust your driving behaviour and take extra care.

“It is therefore always important to plan ahead for your journey. This advice is especially important during the autumn and winter season when weather conditions are traditionally more adverse.

“We have a section of our website dedicated to travelling when it is raining, as part of our guide to travelling in severe weather. It’s also a good idea for people to check their vehicles, such as tyres, coolant and oil levels, before heading out to reduce the risk of breakdowns.”

When heavy rain is forecast, National Highways checks culverts, gullies and drains to help ensure rainwater can drain off the road surface and avoid flooding. We continually monitor weather and road surface temperature forecasts for road conditions and use our messaging signs to advise drivers. We also patrol our road network monitoring the weather and road conditions.

Top tips for driving when it rains 

Keep other road users in mind

Give vulnerable road users including cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians more room than usual - they’re more likely to be blown around by side winds.

Avoid the floods

Don’t drive through flood water: there could be hidden hazards, and it may be deeper than it looks.

Top tips

The following advice will help you stay safe when driving in wet weather: 

  • If it’s time for your wipers, it’s time to slow down 
  • Use dipped headlights, especially if visibility is seriously reduced 
  • The roads will be more slippery than usual, so give yourself more time to react - increase the gap between you and the vehicle in front to at least four seconds 
  • Look out for standing water - adjust your driving before and after encountering any 
  • Always keep your eyes on the road - spray from other vehicles can suddenly reduce your visibility 
  • Visibility affects others too, so anticipate their actions and be prepared 
  • During thunderstorms, sudden winds can unsettle vehicles - keep your speed down and give other road users more room 

Advice on aquaplaning

During heavy rain your vehicle can aquaplane, which can cause you to lose control of your vehicle. Aquaplaning happens when there is a layer of water between the tyre on your vehicle and the road. This reduces the tyre’s grip on the road, reduces traction and can cause you to skid.

Signs your vehicle may be aquaplaning

When driving on a wet road you might: 

  • hear your engine suddenly become louder 
  • see or feel the engine revs increase 
  • feel the steering become ‘light’ 
  • experience the back end of the car drifting from side to side – known as ‘fishtailing’ 

What to do

If your vehicle starts aquaplaning, it is important not to panic. You should: 

  • Avoid hitting the brakes 
  • Gently ease off the accelerator 
  • Hold the steering wheel straight 
  • Switch off cruise control mode, if you have it on 
  • When the vehicle gains traction, you can begin to brake to bring your speed down

The Highway Code

The Highway Code provides more information about driving in wet weather.

Ready for autumn and winter seasons 

Autumn and winter can bring more adverse and severe weather conditions which can affect motorists and these include fog, heavy rain, high winds and gales and ice and snow.

Along with more than 250 weather stations, that provide us with real time information about localised road conditions, National Highways works with independent meteorological experts DTN and Metdesk which run from October 1 to April 30 and complement the national Met Office weather forecast, providing a level of granularity and precision about changing road surface temperatures across our road network. This gives us the detailed knowledge determine where and when to salt roads so they remain open and safe for people to use.

All of the information we gather helps us to inform road users about current road conditions whatever the weather. We also share information through channels including our website, third party travel providers including sat nav companies and local radio stations.

Abigail Oakes, Senior Account Manager at the Met Office, said: “We’re working closely with National Highways throughout the year to help people stay safe on the roads.

“In addition to our year-round national forecasts, National Highways have access to Met Office meteorologists working alongside their team to offer support throughout the autumn and winter. Together, we’re providing the best possible support for road users during periods of severe weather.”

A spokesperson for the Met Office said: “Rainfall, be it sharp bursts from showers or prolonged downpours, can dramatically alter travel conditions. As well as reducing driving visibility, heavy rain can introduce surface water to road surfaces, making travel conditions trickier.”

Visit the Met Office for advice on travelling in rain and search WeatherReady for advice on preparing ahead of severe weather.

National Highways has lots of advice on its website around travelling in severe weather conditions, including high winds and gales, fog, rain and snow and ice. Visit our travelling in severe weather web page.

Travel updates

During periods of heavy rainfall, drivers are advised to follow messages on the overhead signs and listen to radio updates. Further information is available on travelling in winter web page.

Further information can be found by visiting the travel updates page, and by following @highwaysnwest @highwaysneast @highwaysseast @highwaysswest @highwayseast @highwayswmids, @highwaysemids @highwaysyorks on Twitter or calling the National Highways Customer Contact Centre on 0300 123 5000.

Notes to Editors

National Highways is the wholly government-owned company responsible for modernising, maintaining and operating England’s motorways and major A roads.

Real-time traffic information for England’s motorways and major A roads is available via the Traffic England website, local and national radio travel bulletins, electronic road signs and mobile apps. Local Twitter services are also available.

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