Floods can occur anywhere, with floodwaters rising gradually or flash floods striking suddenly. Flash floods are the number one weather-related killer in the United States — most flood fatalities happen because people try to drive through deadly waters rather than avoid them. (Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2005)
Water’s powerful force can easily overtake vehicles caught in a flood. Follow these tips to stay safe in your car during a flood.
What to do during flooding
Pay attention to barricades
Don’t ignore them by driving past them.
Do not drive through standing water on roads or in parking lots
The average automobile can be swept off the road in 12 inches of moving water, and roads covered by water are prone to collapse. Attempting to drive through water also may stall your engine, with the potential to cause irreparable damage if you try to restart the engine. If you come upon a flooded street, take an alternate route.
Take extra precautions if you’re forced to drive through water
If no alternate route exists and you have no other reasonable alternative but to drive through standing water.
- Do your best to estimate the depth of the water (if other cars are driving through, take note of how deep the water is).
- Drive slowly and steadily through the water.
- Avoid driving in water that downed electrical or power lines have fallen in — electric current passes through water easily.
- Watch for items traveling downstream — they can trap or crush you if you’re in their path.
- If you have driven through water up to the wheel rims or higher, test your brakes on a clear patch of road at low speed. If they are wet and not stopping the vehicle as they should, dry them by pressing gently on the brake pedal with your left foot while maintaining speed with your right foot.
- Stay off the telephone unless you must report severe injuries.
- If your vehicle stalls in the deep water, you may need to restart the engine to make it to safety. Keep in mind that restarting may cause irreparable damage to the engine.
- If you can’t restart your vehicle and you become trapped in rising water, immediately abandon it for higher ground. Try to open the door or roll down the window to get out of the vehicle. If you are unable to get out safely, call 911 or get the attention of a passerby or someone standing on higher ground so that they may call for help.