It's called hydroplaning and it happens when you lose steering or braking control as a result of a layer of water or ice. That layer prevents direct contact between your vehicle's tires and the road, and the end result can be something very dangerous.
It's a feeling all too familiar to law enforcement officers from all over the region. They take part in the Emergency Vehicle Operations Course at the Texas Engineering Extension Service Riverside Campus track near Bryan.
Deputy Chad Carter with the Travis County Sheriff's Office is one of those officers. "As patrol officers, we never get to predict our climate. If we have to pursue someone in inclement climate, this is what it's going to teach us to do."
Waco Police Sergeant Dave Newman takes what he learns here back to other officers in Waco who he trains. Newman says, "Automobile crashes are the number one killer of officers nationwide. And this is a great opportunity with the threats we're faced with daily, this a great opportunity to cut down where we can on officer fatalities."
These cops are involved in training to help them learn how to survive in case they're ever involved in a high speed chase. But what about you and me? We don't chase people, but our vehicles can hydroplane just like these.
"We know from experience that vehicles can easily hydroplane at 30 miles per hour or above, so what we want to do is, we want our guys to be prepared to know what the car feels like just before it either hydroplanes or starts to skid," says Kyle McNew, trainer for the Emergency Vehicle Operations Course.
On this day McNew is my personal trainer, to keep me from wrecking.
"Any time the road surface is wet you need to reduce your speed, first of all. Number 2, probably one of the big factors for hydroplaning is improper air pressure in the vehicle tires themselves. A lot of times if they are under-inflated, they'll allow a lot of water to pond underneath them. Uh, looking at the tread. If you're riding on a pair of tires that are really worn out and don't have a lot of tread on them, they don't have ability to channel water out from underneath the tire."
Those are critical, but easy steps to safety.
Next up, avoiding or stopping the skid, and we're doing it on a training track that has been thoroughly wetted down with giant sprinklers. Vehicles can easily lose traction on a slick road.
Now at a standstill, Kyle tells me it's important to remember when you feel your vehicle sliding, TURN toward the direction you are sliding.
As I turn the steering wheel to simulate turning toward a slide, McNew says, "Go for it. Yeah. Even faster than that if you can go faster than that. And that'll take me, what it'll do is basically turn, what it does is turn front of car back into the skid in hopes that rolling tires up front, and fact that you established rolling tires in back by getting your foot off the gas and slowing down, basically brings everything back in line."
Back on the test track, with the proper training, I bring a hydroplaning vehicle back in control, by gettting my foot off the gas and TURNING TOWARD THE DIRECTION OF THE SKID.
It makes a world of difference on a slick road, and might just save your life.