Why do people drive in a flood? Essentially, they believe that they’re safe; rain happens often enough, everyone knows how to drive through water, and if you have to, you can always just swim to dry land, so, what’s the problem, really? Unfortunately, people get killed by that kind of thinking.
What exactly is a flood? Often, a flood occurs when water levels are rising in rivers and lakes, overspilling in waves across the land, destroying property and taking lives. This phenomenon can be predicted on a seasonal basis for melting snowpacks, but still, even with advance warning, disaster still strikes. Far worse than seasonal flooding, flash floods can occur anywhere or anytime – they’re unpredictable and extremely dangerous. They often happen during sudden rainstorms, but they can also occur due to levee or dam breaks. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that flash floods kill the most people out of any weather-related event.
How is that possible? We live in the information age! The real truth is that people, regardless of the danger, just choose to drive in floodwaters, and, according to the National Weather Service, this choice results in half of all flood-related fatalities. Other people, not them, will have problems or become statistics. In a tragic way, it’s almost understandable if someone gets caught asleep in their house when the flood hits – without a doubt, that’s just really bad luck. But why would anyone willingly choose to risk their lives by going outside during a flood? Mostly, people venture forth because it looks safe. However, the flooding situation is often worse than it appears and it can suddenly change from bad to worse in a heartbeat.
What happens when you’re driving? Often, during a flood, a downpour of rainfall obscures your vision. Your wiper blades can’t keep up. Big drops of water hammer your windshield. The terrain outside is covered under water and with your limited vision, your judgment of everything becomes a best guess. You could easily hydroplane, or skid on a layer of virtually frictionless water, and, as a result, maybe you’d slide out-of-control across the road surface, or maybe hit a deep pocket of water, or worse yet, maybe disappear into an enormous washed-out gorge where a huge section of the road used to be. Also, your car engine can immediately stall from excessive contact with water. Floodwaters, much colder than your car’s hot engine, can cause it to seize up, or not start. The temperature difference might even crack the engine block itself. Your electrical system could also short out. Even if your car just stalled, a restart could suck water into the engine through the tailpipe or any new cracks. All of this damage could total your car for insurance purposes – do you have flood insurance?
Losing your car could be the least of your problems. If you become stuck, you could be in a very dangerous situation. Flood water can rise at various rates: 1) almost imperceptibly, giving you plenty of time to do whatever you need to do, 2) several feet per second, giving you enough time for one quick action, or 3) instantaneously, when a towering wall of water comes thundering towards you, maybe giving you enough time to feel surprised.
Great floods are powerful enough to snap mature trees off at their base. Imagine what one could do to you and your car. Per Progressive Insurance, even shallow floods, six inches in depth, can be fast moving enough to knock you off your feet and even more water can lift your car up and way. The US Search & Rescue Task Force states that a foot of water is enough to float 1500 pounds, so, several feet can easily toss most cars about like a cork bobbing in the water. Once your car is afloat, it can be carried into deeper waters, where it could also sink or tip over, either way, the inside would become filled quickly and you’d drown if you couldn’t escape. Per the Louisiana Emergency Preparedness Department, more people end up drowning in their cars than anywhere else! Many people also don’t survive the experience even if they can escape their cars. Other cars can hit them, or, more likely, they get overwhelmed by debris being hurled along by the floodwaters. Trees, boulders and mud often make up the debris, and if that wasn’t enough, toxic sewage, chemicals and dead animals are also mixed in with the dangerous flows. Traveling about also increases your chances of coming across a downed power line, whipping and crackling about within the water, making death by electrocution a major flood hazard.
Regardless of how smart, prepared and alert you are, you can easily find yourself in deep water before you know it. It’s as easy as not seeing some emergency barricades on a street, driving into an area where a road or bridge may have washed away and then realizing that you can’t turn around. If you’re lucky, emergency personnel might be nearby – but don’t count on it. You could try to use your cell phone to get help, but even if you got through, you’d reach a telephone circuit overwhelmed by other emergency calls.
Think again about driving during a flood. Don’t risk your life. Be safe.