December 20, 2019

Driving in a Flood

Your Car is Not an Ark!

It won’t have escaped your attention that we’ve had a very wet autumn this year, and the rain shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. As fields get waterlogged and rivers burst their banks, there have been floods up and down the entire country. Some of these are badly affecting our roads and driving agencies such as the AA say some drivers aren’t taking enough care when handling the adverse conditions.

Don’t drive through a flood

Looking at a flooded road, you may think you can judge the depth of the water by kerbs or other roadside features but that’s not always the case. Particularly on country roads, it’s possible for the murky depths to hide holes or debris which can be a danger.

It takes as little as an egg cup-full of water in the air intake to kill your engine, and it’s a particular risk as so many cars now have the intake placed low down at the front of the engine.

It might sound alarmist to say so, but there’s also a very real danger of your car being floated off its wheels in a flood and into a roadside ditch or dyke. It only takes a foot of moving water to float a small car or one that’s been lowered.

Amazingly, the AA reports incidents of drivers having to be rescued from water deep enough to make the car occupants climb onto the car roof to get away from it. Recently, three cars had to be recovered from one flooded stretch in Lincolnshire and another, which was completely submerged, in Doncaster.

If you come across a flood, by far the safest option is to turn around and find another route to your destination. It might take you a few miles out of your way, but you could save yourself a whole lot of soggy grief.

Shallow standing water

Water doesn’t have to be at flood level to cause problems for drivers if they don’t take care going through it.

  • Drive in a low gear and just fast enough to push the water away from the wheels. Any faster and your tyres could lose grip and start aquaplaning. If this happens, you’ll feel the steering become light, the engine will suddenly sound louder and the back of the car may begin to fishtail from side to side. To remedy the situation:
    • Don’t slam the brakes on
    • Slowly back off the accelerator
    • Keep the steering straight
    • Gently brake once you feel the control returning as the car slows
  • When you’re through the puddle, your road grip will still be lessened for a short distance until you get past the water deposited by other vehicles.
  • Very gently brake as you leave the puddle to allow the brake disc/pad friction heat to evaporate any water that’s got in there.

Keeping safe in the wet

Do you really need to travel? If you don’t absolutely have to drive in excessive rain, then it’s much better not to. Even if you don’t encounter any flooded roads, very heavy rain can play havoc with car electrical systems.

If you must drive, here are some tips for a safe journey:

See and be seen

Very heavy rain can dramatically reduce visibility. If the rain is heavy while you’re stationary, it will be made considerably worse when you’re driving through it at speed. Make sure you can see as well as possible by ensuring that your windscreen wipers work efficiently. Spray from the car in front adds to the deluge too but also be aware of water thrown up by vehicles coming the other way, particularly large cars or lorries. Some produce a positive bow wave which can be blinding if you’re not prepared for it.

Also on the point of good visibility, have a thought for other drivers and don’t be tempted to use either your fog lights or main beam headlights. They can cause dazzle in heavy rain. Stick to dipped lights.

Check your tyres

Make sure your tyres are in a fit state for driving in wet conditions. Having less than the minimum legal requirement of 1.6mm tread depth across the middle three quarters of the tyre dramatically reduces the road grip, particularly in wet weather. Not to mention the fact that you’re looking at a potential risk of a £2,500 fine and three penalty points on your licence if you’re caught – and that’s per tyre. If all four are below the legal limit, that could me an a £10,000 fine and the loss of your licence. You can read more here.

Fill up

Don’t get stuck with no fuel. Make sure you have enough for your journey and fill up locally. Bear in mind that bad weather can mean slower moving or even stationary traffic, and the more auxiliary things you’re using – lights, wipers, heater, de-mister etc – the more fuel you’re using too.

Slow down

Keep your speed down. Driving in rain means that visibility isn’t the only thing that’s reduced – your stopping distance is too. It can take double the stopping distance in heavy rain, so reduce your speed and increase the amount of distance between you and the vehicle in front.

Driving in wet weather or a flood can be a real nuisance but, with common sense and care, it needn’t be a disaster.

You might also like: Winter Driving Guide