Two weeks ago, the unthinkable happened in L.A. It rained. That may not sounds as bad as an earthquake or a landslide or a wildfire, but it likely accounted for greater loss of life. You see, L.A. has a dark secret. In a city where everyone drives, no one actually knows how to drive, especially in the rain.
You've seen the scenes in disaster movies. Clouds descend, birds rise, cars start slamming into each other at high speed like some sort of Michael Bay wet dream. The thing is, none of that is a terrible exaggeration. It happens on L.A. freeways, just like in the movies, every time it rains. You sit there at a red light, watching cars skid and spin through the junction in front of you, absolutely scared for your life. It's complete and utter chaos.
There's a number of theories as to why the entire Los Angeles basin turns into a giant, real-life version of bumper cars the second moisture falls out of the sky. One of the most reasonable is that it rains so rarely — three times total since I moved here in May — that a huge amount of grease, diesel, debris and other crap has time to build up, then is raised out of the rain grooves and asphalt pores by the water.
Another is that drainage optimized for desert conditions simply can't cope with the volume of a temporary deluge. And one that I've come up with is based on observations that, in a city where every extra penny goes on your car, people hang on to tires long past their wear out dates.
And those theories do have some basis in reality. L.A. is equipped with some fairly unique road construction. Rather than pave their highways with nice, grippy, repairable, rain-absorbent asphalt, some genius chose to instead drop giant slabs of slick concrete everywhere, usually at odd angles. If that polished surface and the imperfect fit between pieces wasn't enough, they also carved out "rain grooves" intended to collect water beneath the surface that tires contact. You know what they do instead? Reduce contact patch and, therefore grip, everywhere you go, by about 20 percent. As soon as they fill with water, it pools in them. The grooves actually help hold water on the roadway and contribute to spray and poor vision. Awesome.
But, none of that can explain why L.A. drivers are so uniquely dangerous when it rains. Other cities have cheapskates with poorly maintained cars and other cities have terrible roads. Nowhere I've been holds a candle to New York's poor excuse for highways.
No, what I think it really is is that people spend so much time in their cars here, that they've stopped thinking of driving as something they need to think about. When you spend four hours every day inching along in gridlock, sexting that cute boy, you simply become complacent. Here in L.A., people think of their cars more like they think of their houses — a shelter in which they spend time — rather than as a device they must operate with care and skill.
Thinking of driving as the kind of activity where you switch your brain off invariably leads to problems when anything out of the ordinary happens. Anything like rain.
It's sort of crazy going to a bar or a party and hearing stories of people's accident history. Nearly everyone I know here has been in some sort of massive, life-threatening car crash. Typically their own fault. Just going by anecdotal evidence, totaling a car is an annual rite of passage. The reason? Answers range from being stoned and not paying attention to being stoned, not paying attention and texting too. Regardless, people here freely admit to most of these horrible, life-threatening, totally-preventable accidents being their own fault.
The thing is, driving doesn't need to be like that. Believe it or not, it is possible to drive, even in the rain, without running into things. Here's a few tips how:
1.) Put down the damn phone
Is Anyone Up? will still be happy to publish those nudes once you've gotten where you're going.
2.) Slow the fuck down
With reduced grip, it will take longer to stop. It's actually possible to achieve the same stopping distances in the rain, just go a little slower.
3.) Back the fuck off
Again, stopping distances increase in the rain. Leaving a little more room between you and the car in front will allow you to avoid hitting it should said car decide to slam on its brakes.
4.) Don't run red lights
This is common sense, but again, with reduced grip and therefore stopping distances, relying on panic braking to stop cars from hitting you just isn't an ideal approach.
5.) Avoid making abrupt inputs mid-corner
On a bumpy, reducing radius, off-camber off-ramp? Maybe don't slam your brakes on mid corner. You can avoid the need to do this, again, by just going a little slower.
Most importantly, just think about what you're doing and accept responsibility for your own actions. No matter what your lawyers tell you, if you crash because it's raining, it's your own damn fault.