According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 100 people die in the U.S. every year due to flooding-related hazards. Over half of flood-related drownings happen because someone drove into dangerously deep water.
Why do people do it? Most people simply don’t realize that the water is too deep, or don’t consider the possibilities, according to a spokesperson for the Tampa, Florida, police department.
“People just think they’ll make it to the other side, and it’s a lot deeper than they think,” he told Consumer Reports. “They don’t know if the road has worn away and don’t know what’s under the water. You don’t know if there’s a wire down or debris in the road.”
Entering water just six inches deep could mean trouble
Even hitting a large puddle of water could cause you to lose control of the car, and that could mean becoming stuck or striking an object like a tree. Six inches of water might swamp your tailpipe, allowing your engine to become flooded. That could total your car.
Just twelve inches of water can sweep a small car away. Much more than that could move even a large vehicle.
Any of those situations could leave you in a disabled vehicle with no way out until rescue arrives. That puts you and your passengers at grave risk — and it puts rescue workers at risk, too.
Consumer Reports noted that even experienced drivers make the mistake of driving into floodwaters. The nonprofit pointed to a Houston Police sergeant with 34 years of experience who drowned in 2017 after inadvertently driving into floodwaters during Hurricane Harvey.
When approaching water, slow down and assess
Here in Wisconsin, flooding can be unpredictable. Pay attention when the weather reports predict flash flooding danger in the area. Be aware that you may encounter water in any low spot or location with poor draining.
Anytime you see water in the roadway, immediately slow down to assess the situation. Many people drive into floodwaters before they even realize there’s a problem.
Can you see the road? If not, the water may be too deep for safe driving. This is especially true at night when it’s harder to estimate the depth. Remember that water can hide defects in the road caused by the force of the water. It could also hide serious hazards like downed power lines, which could electrocute you if you drive through the water.
If the water looks to be six inches or deeper, immediately turn around and find another route. If you can’t find another route, find a safe location to shelter from the storm and wait for the flooding to pass.
Of course, if a flash-flood watch or warning is issued, your best bet is to stay home until the danger passes.
If you do drive into floodwaters and run into trouble, stay in your car and wait for help to arrive. Water powerful enough to move your car will be extremely dangerous to attempt to walk through.