Nearly half of all flood related deaths occur in vehicles. Most of these deaths take place when people drive into flooded highway dips or low drainage areas.
A low-water crossing is where a road, without a bridge, dips across a normally dry creek bed or drainage area. Motorists who attempt to cross these flooded low-water crossings are putting themselves, their vehicles, and any other occupants of their vehicles at deadly risk.
Water weighs about 62.4 pounds per cubic foot and typically flows downstream at 6 to 12 miles an hour.
When a vehicle stalls in the water, the water's momentum is transferred to the car. For each foot the water rises, 500 pounds of lateral force are applied to the car.
For each foot the water rises up the side of the car, the car displaces 1,500 pounds of water. In effect, the car weighs 1,500 pounds less for each foot the water rises!
Therefore, most cars will float in just two feet of water!
The Human Element
Most vehicles will become buoyant in two feet of water or less. People who have previously driven successfully through a flooded low-water crossing often do not recognize that an increase of an inch or so in the water level may be all it takes to tip the balance of buoyancy against them!
Few people, including Public Safety and Rescue personnel, appreciate the power of flowing water. Fewer people realize how fast water can rise in a small stream to flood a low-water crossing area.
More than half of all low-water crossing vehicular related deaths occur at night. Under conditions of low-visibility the vulnerability of the driver and passengers to the hidden danger is greatly magnified.
High volumes of moving water play havoc on bridges, road beds, and other structures. What may appear as a normal road, may in fact, be a death trap. Therefore, all posting warnings and barriers adhered to.
Flash Flood Warnings
A flash flood watch means flash flooding is possible within the flash flood watch area. When a flash flood watch is posted, persons in the watch area should take precautionary measures. Keep informed and be ready for quick action if flash flooding is observed or a warning is issued.
Motorists and pedestrians in or passing through the advisory area should:
With this information in mind, we are appalled at the recent television advertising Sport Utility Vehicles. Their advertising campaigns demonstrates these particular vehicles driving through low-water crossing areas which promotes the idea that their vehicles can handle just about anything mother nature throws at them. It is our opinion that this advertising is misleading and dangerous as it presents a false sense of security to any 4 x 4 vehicle operators giving the impression that low-water crossing warnings can be ignored because their vehicles can handle any situation.
The general public, as well as Public Safety and Rescue personnel, must remember the following critical points:
Gerald Dworkin, is a professional aquatics safety and water rescue consultant for Lifesaving Resources Inc. and is responsible for aquatics safety, lifeguard, water rescue, and ice rescue training curricula and programs. He also consults as an expert in drowning and aquatic injury litigation. He is a graduate from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, and has over 30 years professional experience in the fire, EMS, and water rescue sector. He is currently a firefighter/EMT for the Harrisville (NH) Fire and Rescue Department.
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