What Are the Dangers of Driving through Flood Waters?
Driving through flood waters is dangerous and should be avoided if possible. The advice, “Turn around, do not drown” is wise. Attempting to drive through flood waters puts you and your passengers at risk for a car accident, can irreparably damage your vehicle, and can jeopardize the lives of first responders should they need to come and rescue you.
The increase in catastrophic weather events means that around the United States, drivers are encountering heavy rain and storm conditions more often. According to the National Weather Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), driving into hazardous water is responsible for more than half of all flood-related drownings. This discussion explains why flood waters are so dangerous and what to do if you are faced with a flooded road.
Flood Water Dangers
Flood waters are unpredictable; what may seem like six inches of water can actually be much deeper, but you will not know that until it is too late. The water may appear calm enough to cross but could unexpectedly surge before you get to the other side. Some hazards associated with flood waters are as follows:
- Hidden road conditions. Flood waters hide what is underneath and often the power of the storm water has washed out the road, leaving behind mud and debris that is unpassable. Roads covered with water can also collapse as you are attempting to cross.
- Downed wires. Electrocution is a real risk if you enter a flooded road that also contains downed power lines.
- Hydroplaning. As you enter the flood waters, you may lose control of the car through hydroplaning. The flood waters could carry you into a tree or another obstacle. Six inches of water is enough to reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control, and a small car can be moved by as little as 12 inches of water. If it is two feet deep and moving swiftly, there are few vehicles that cannot be swept away by such force.
- Stalling the engine. Driving through flood water may stall out your engine and trying to restart it could cause irreparable damage. It is best to let the ignition dry out before attempting to restart the engine. If your engine stalls, you will have to abandon the vehicle and continue on foot.
What Should I Do if I Encounter Flood Waters While Driving?
It is always best to avoid driving through flood waters. Preparation for a storm is key to staying safe. Check the weather during storm events to prevent being caught in a situation with the possibility of flash flooding. Plan elevated routes that circumvent watershed areas such as Rock Creek Park, Difficult Run, or the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River and roadways that routinely flood such as Beach Drive, Sligo Creek Parkway, Broad Branch Road, and Goldsboro Road along Minnehaha Branch. It is also important to realize that around the Washington DC region, there are larger tributaries such as Rock Creek that experience delayed flash flooding with water levels rising as much as an hour later after heavy rains occur upstream.
If the National Weather Service issues flash flood warnings before your trip, you should seriously consider postponing travel.
If you are already traveling and come to a flooded area, turn around and find an alternate route; however, if this is not possible, you can take these steps to assess the safety of the water in front of you:
- Estimate the depth by observing other cars driving through; be especially careful at night when it is more difficult to evaluate the depth of flood waters.
- Check for downed wires or power lines.
- Look out for any large objects traveling downstream that could trap or crush you.
If the water is too high, moving too fast, or otherwise too dangerous, you should try to move to higher ground and wait out the flood. In the case of flash flooding, the water should recede as the rain passes almost as quickly as it occurred.
Vehicle Damage from Driving through Flood Waters
Driving through flood waters poses a serious risk to your life, but even if you make it through unharmed, you could easily total your vehicle by crossing a flooded road, especially if you live in a coastal area where salt water may be part of the flood water. As mentioned above, the flood waters can cause an engine stall and ruin it beyond repair; however, the damage to your vehicle may be much more extensive, including the following:
- Transmission damage. If water flows over the transmission into the vent, it can dissolve the lining of the transmission causing the lubricant to fail and thus the entire transmission itself. Water entering the transmission can also cause the gears to slip.
- Electrical problems. Modern vehicles have systems powered by computers and electrical components that can fail after being submerged in floodwaters. This includes the windshield wipers, power door locks, power windows, power seat controls, sunroof controls, the air conditioning system, lighting and blinkers, and the electrical control unit.
- Interior water damage. Floodwaters can contain sewage overflow, storm runoff, chemicals, salt, and other contaminants that can be difficult to remove after soaking the interior seating and floor of your vehicle. Mold and mildew could form and create a serious health hazard requiring expensive treatment and repairs.
- Salt damage. Salt water can be a source of car problems for many months or years after you drive through floodwaters. You may not notice any immediate damage, but in fact the salt left behind is corroding the metal components of your car that made contact with the floodwaters. Your brakes, rotors, engine, and electrical systems could all be affected.
Washington DC Car Accident Lawyers at the Law Offices of Duane O. King Fight for Clients in Flooding Accidents
If you or someone you love was injured in a car accident, the experienced Washington DC car accident lawyers at the Law Offices of Duane O. King can help. We will investigate your case and fight to hold the responsible party accountable. Call us today at 202-331-1963 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Washington DC, Alexandria, Virginia, and National Harbor, Maryland, we work with clients in Prince George’s County, including Laurel, Beltsville, Adelphi, College Park, Greenbelt, Mitchellville, Woodmore, Greater Upper Marlboro, Springdale, Largo, Bowie, Capitol Heights, District Heights, Forestville, Suitland, Seat Pleasant, Clinton, Oxon Hill, Temple Hills, and Fort Washington.