Flooding across Queensland and parts of NSW have led to widespread evacuation orders, severe damage and tragically, loss of life, too. As the situation progresses, and with research indicating extreme flooding events will only become more likely because of climate change, it is important that Australians impacted by these disasters understand one critical rule.
Please do not ever drive into a flood.
“It’s not even halfway up the tires,” you say, and I do not care. Turn that car around and go wait it out somewhere.
According to the United States National Weather Service, more than half of flood-related drownings in the country take place after a vehicle has been driven into floodwater.
“A mere [six] inches of fast-moving flood water can knock over an adult,” the agency warns.
“It takes just 30cm of rushing water to carry away most cars and just two feet of rushing water can carry away SUVs and trucks.”
The instruction to “Turn around, don’t drown” may feel cheesy, but floods can swell up quickly and even take place in unexpected spots where storm drains can’t handle a sudden deluge. It’s best not to take your chances if the road ahead of you has any standing water.
The psychology of driving through a flood
When NSW was experiencing its severe flooding event in March 2021, The Conversation published a piece that highlighted how Australians in particular are likely to associate water with leisure. And this outlook leads to a more casual response to driving in dangerous settings.
The piece read:
Our recent national survey asked participants about their behaviour with flood waters. We found 19% had engaged in activities in flooded rivers, with 77% of these doing so for leisure purposes such as wading, swimming or riding an inflatable.
Over half those surveyed have driven through floodwater, with most of these (68%) having done so more than once.
Men and drivers of larger vehicles are most likely to take these risks. During a single flood event in NSW in 2016, 80 cars became stranded and three drivers died in unrelated incidents linked to driving through flood waters.
In response, the SES put out this video highlighting the risk of getting too close to flood water.
And here’s a guide from the Bureau of Meteorology about what to do before, during and after a flood.
If you would like a gentler reminder of this concept, here is a PSA from the United States National Weather Service in the form of a music video. It’s so earnest it’s impossible to hate.
This article has been updated to reflect the recent flood events in Australia.