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Physics of Hydroplaning



This weekend, I was watching a movie in which the main characters were driving in a heavy rainstorm and the car hydroplaned. This got me to thinking about the physics behind hydroplaning. Hydroplaning occurs when water prevents the tread of a tire to make contact with road itself. With heavy rainfall, a layer of water builds up on the road very quickly. When there is a layer of water between the car tire and the road, there is a smaller coefficient of friction, if any.  Because there is little to no friction, the car cannot be controlled by the steering wheel, and the driver loses control. The car ends up acting like a cart on one of the "frictionless" tracks that we use in class. After it has been acted on for a period of time by a force, it continues to move at that same speed in the same direction. The faster the force the harder it is for the car or cart to be stopped, or steered. When a driver attempts to steer the car or hit the brakes when a car is hydroplaning, nothing happens because there is not contact with the road. This is why it is better to drive at slower speeds when there is a heavy rainstorm, or you could just stay at home and sit down with a good book:)

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