What to Do If You're Caught in a Flood While Driving

Posted by: Lydia on 23/12/2019

Category: General


Getting caught in a flood is something many drivers may feel is unlikely—until it happens to them. Whether it's a freak storm or a wrong turn made on the road, sometimes a driver can suddenly find that nature is working against them. Every Aussie intuitively understands the risk of bushfires and often has a good working knowledge of safety principles surrounding them.

Floods can be different, and are a less common experience for Australia compared to some other countries with a far wetter climate. But like any emergency scenario, it’s just as important to know how to stay safe—just in case—especially because such a situation can quickly come of nowhere. Let's go over some tips on what to do if you’re caught in a flood while driving.

Prevention is better than the cure

Sometimes there may be circumstances where it's impossible to avoid encountering a flood. For example, if you live or work in a flood-prone area, or are on holiday and a sudden change of weather occurs. For other times, the old adage rings true ‘prevention is better than the cure’. Avoiding a risky situation is always going to be the surest way to keep you and yours safe.

That said, there’s a number of resources you can use to ensure you avoid driving into an at-risk area. Around the nation, there’s a number of websites and apps created by state governments and available to download for free. Not only are these apps great sources of information to check anytime you feel it’s required, but thanks to SMS and push notifications that are commonly sent out to app users, you can automatically stay up to date whenever there’s a nearby emergency.


Understanding floods

Floods don’t need to be massive and to resemble something out of a disaster movie to pose a massive risk to your safety and your vehicle, as ultimately they cause over $57 billion worth of damage each year. This is because although automobiles are built to be able to navigate minor hazards like heavy puddles, once the water reaches a certain height and volume, the risk of major damage to your car’s engine and other components increases. When your vehicle becomes disabled, it will be necessary to take emergency action (more on that in a moment). 

If you do get caught in such a scenario, it can become a survival risk, as even water that is only waist-height or lower can pose a huge threat. You have to keep in mind the pull of currents underwater, the speed of the water’s travel, and potentially other hazards like debris in the water that could lead to illness, if not injury. It’s always critical to recognise that driving through a flooded area can be just as dangerous as driving through an active bushfire zone and to always seek to avoid doing so whenever possible. 

What to do if you’re caught

If you’ve gotten caught in a flood, the first step is to avoid panic. It’s understandably a very stressful situation, but try to take a couple of deep breaths as you assess the situation around you. It can be dangerous to panic as you can be more likely to make decisions that increase the danger to yourself and others. By staying calm, you increase the chance of making the best decision that will get you back to safety ASAP.

If you feel the danger is immediate, look to call 000 direct. If you have encountered a situation that is concerning but not immediately dangerous—for example, if you’ve turned a corner and gotten stuck in low-lying but calm floodwaters that don’t seem to be rising—it’s still wise to call someone. 

If not for 000, try to call an emergency contact—ideally, one who is nearby but not exposed to the flood risk—and tell them where you are. You don’t want to get stuck on a long phone call, so keep it under 30 seconds. Tell them where you are and that if you don’t call back within a short period of time saying you’re OK, they need to call emergency services for you. Alternatively, you can also send an SMS (including sharing your location via GPS) to the person. 

Assessing the situation around you, try to determine the direction of the floodwater and whether you can see dry land or a much lower water level anywhere nearby. Doing this will help you identify a potential route to escape and avoid moving in a direction where the floodwater is even more dangerous and will make escape harder.

Getting out

If it’s possible to do so, reversing your vehicle slowly (so as to avoid the risk of water soaking the engine), or making a slow turn with your car is the best way to get out of floodwaters. If it’s not possible to do either, the best course of action is to call emergency services, and wait in the car. If floodwaters continue to rise, you may need to make an emergency exit. 

Wind down your window, and look to exit via it before the water level rises to it. Do not open your car door as that will let the water in and can threaten your ability to make a safe exit. Try to exit the vehicle and get on top of the roof. This may mean a trip to the panel beater’s when all is said and done to fix a few dents, but now is the time to prioritise saving your life over your car.

It’s important to remember this step should be seen as a last resort, so if floodwaters around you are steady and not rising up on your vehicle, then stay in your vehicle. But if you have no alternative, getting to higher ground on top of your vehicle and waiting for emergency services to rescue is the best option.

A Plan for Safety and Survival

It’s unpleasant to imagine being in a survival situation, and many people understandably avoid thinking too much about it for that reason. But ultimately it’s necessary to do so. So look to download emergency apps, having a working understanding of how floods behave, and memorise (and ideally write down to store in your car’s glove box) what emergency steps you’d take if you encounter a flood while driving. 

Getting stuck in a flood is always a stressful situation. The good news is that if you take the time to make a plan and see it through, your chances of getting to safety increase. Make a plan, see it through, and you’ll be safe soon.

Have you ever been caught in a flood while driving? Let us know in the comments below.

Image: Pixabay