UK Survey Reveals Dangers of Floods Still Underestimated by Drivers

A recent survey revealed that 48% of drivers in the UK would put themselves in danger by driving through flood water.

The survey of members of the Automobile Association (AA), a British motoring association, was carried out in October 2016 and received 19,018 responses. The survey was released as part of the Environment Agency’s flood action campaign.

Drivers in the North East and South East (excluding London) were the most likely to carry on driving (51%). Drivers in London were the least likely to risk driving through flood water.

Asked if they knew for certain that severe heavy rain and possible flooding was going to affect a planned car journey, only 41% of respondents said they would choose a different route. Women were more likely to cancel their journey altogether (30%) compared to men (25%).

The survey also revealed that drivers aged 65 and over take more risks in flood water than any other age group.  Almost half (49%) of those over 65 would drive through flood water compared with 40% of 18 to 24-year-olds.

23,000 Vehicle Flood Rescues in UK

In the last 5 years, the AA has been called out to almost 23,000 flood rescues. Many of these could have been avoided if people had checked flood warnings before they travelled. The Environment Agency’s flood warning service is free and updated every 15 minutes.

John Curtin, Executive Director of Flood and Coastal Risk Management at the Environment Agency, said:

“The sheer number of people of all ages who wouldn’t think twice about a potentially fatal decision to drive through a flood is deeply worrying. Our message is simple: don’t.”

“It’s so easy to check if your route is affected by flooding: our warnings and alerts are updated every 15 minutes. If you see flood water on the road ahead, you should avoid unnecessary misery and turn around and go another way,” he added.

Olly Kunc, Director of Road Operations at the AA, said, ” While it’s easy to assume it will never happen to you, even the most experienced driver could be out of their depth in flood water.

“Last year, more than 2,500 AA members became stranded while attempting to pass through a waterlogged road.”

Even a small amount of water ingested through the air intake will wreck the engine, while 30cm of fast-flowing water could float your car.

It is easy to underestimate the height of the water and the impact that water can have on a vehicle, as shown recently during the heavy rain in south London in June this year, which left a number of vehicles stranded on a busy road in Wallington, London Borough of Sutton.

Vehicle trapped in flood water in Wallington, London, 07 June 2016. Photo: London Fire Brigade
Vehicle trapped in flood water in Wallington, London, 07 June 2016. Photo: London Fire Brigade

Flood water is dangerous and masks other hazards, so it’s just not worth the risk to you, your passengers and those who have to rescue you for the sake of a few miles’ detour.

For 7 years, the top 3 places in the UK for flood rescues have remained the same. Rufford Lane in Newark, Nottinghamshire, Watery Gate Lane in Leicester and Houndsfield Lane in Shirley, Solihull are all fords. The Environment Agency recommends that people stay away from swollen rivers, flood water, and coastal roads in a storm.

A World Wide Problem

Driving in flood water is not just a problem in the UK.  Many flood related fatalities occur in vehicles in areas where car use is relatively high. In recent years, FloodList has reported on vehicle flood fatalities in numerous different countries in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, North America and Australia.

In Australia, a report by Queensland University of Technology (QUT) from 2010, said that 4 out of 10 deaths were associated with driving motor vehicles across flooded waterways or roadways, despite public warnings to avoid them. Another 8.8 per cent involved the collapse of a flooded roadway.

Over 170 flood deaths have occurred since 2000 in Australia. A recent report by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC said that “most people have died while attempting to cross a bridge, causeway, culvert or road, either on foot or in a vehicle. While most victims were capable of independent action and aware of the flood, the speed and depth of the water took them by surprise.”

Of those who were attempting to reach a destination at the time of death, the greatest number were on their way home. In fact the majority of fatalities happened within the local area close to where they lived.

Vehicle flood fatalities were more likely to occur in the evening when visibility is poorer.

If It’s Flooded, Forget It

Some time ago Queensland State Emergency Services in Australia launched a campaign to help educate drivers of the risks of flood water. The now the well-known “if it’s flooded, forget it” message urges drivers to stay out of floodwater. The campaign also includes a series of videos from experts and those who took risks and survived.

Image: Queensland SES
Image: Queensland SES

Not Only the Drivers Put at Risk

It must be emphasised that taking a vehicle into flood water not only puts the driver at risk, it also risks the lives of passengers and emergency workers tasked to carry out high water rescues.

The above mentioned report by Australia’s Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC said that “more women and children died in floods due to the decisions of others – for example, being a passenger in a vehicle.”

In the USA during the devastating floods brought by Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina, there was a real fear that far too many irresponsible drivers were putting the lives of rescue personnel at risk, as well as their own.

In October this year, after announcing yet another vehicle flood fatality, the Governor of North Carolina said:

“I cannot stress more. If you see a road that’s flooded, do not take your car through that road. If you see a barrier, do not go around that barrier. This is a life and death decision. Not only are you making it for yourself, you are making it also for the rescue personnel who will be called upon to try to save your life.”