How to drive through flood water

With the risk of floods increasing, it’s important to know how to stay safe when travelling in wet conditions.

With the risk of floods increasing, it’s important to know how to stay safe when travelling in wet conditions.

Daniel Hutson
From the Motor team
5
minute read
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Posted 20 SEPTEMBER 2021

Tips for driving through floods and standing water 

The number-one cause of death during flooding is driving through flood water. Understand the risks and what you can do if your route is flooded.

1. Find a different route

The best course of action is to try to avoid standing water completely. You should also stay completely clear of any fast-flowing water, especially in spaces where depth can increase quickly.

Your journey might take a little longer than you planned, but you can avoid damage to your vehicle or, worse still, avoid it being swept away. 

2. Size up the water 

If you have to drive through water, you should make sure it is no more than 10cm deep. Most modern cars, except for 4x4s with a high clearance on the road, can start to float in 30cm of water.

It pays to be very cautious – when you factor in waves from other drivers and uneven road surfaces, you could easily find yourself in unexpectedly deep water.

Try stepping out of the car and, if you have them handy, wading through the water in a pair of wellies. Alternatively, you can pick up a stick to try and gauge the depth of the water instead. 

3. Let other vehicles pass 

If you’ve decided the water is shallow enough to drive through (10cm or lower) it’s time to look for oncoming vehicles. Vans, lorries and buses will usually cause a bigger wave than smaller cars and they could make water levels dangerously high, so wait your turn to use the road.  

4. Take the high road 

Now that you’ve let oncoming vehicles pass, you can take advantage of the full width of the road to drive along its highest point – this is usually away from the kerb and in the middle of the road.

If there isn’t an option to use the middle of the road, you might be able to spot higher sections to stay in shallower water. Remember, all road surfaces aren’t made evenly.

5. Drive slowly 

Aim to drive at 3-4 mph. If you pick up too much speed, you can create a wave that affects other drivers or even worse, your tyres could aquaplane and lose contact with the road. If this happens, keep your steering wheel straight and gradually take your feet off the accelerator and brake.

It’s important not to stop your car. Try to keep a consistent speed and your revs high. You can do this in a manual car by slipping out of gear and keeping your foot on the accelerator. 

By moving at all times, you should stop water getting into your exhaust pipe and damaging your car. 

6. Test your brakes 

Once you’re high and relatively dry, try pressing on your brakes to see how they respond. Using them a few times should help to dry off any excess water and will give you the chance to see if there are any problems.

Tips for driving in heavy rain 

Driving in heavy rain can be a hazardous experience. Follow our tips below to help you stay safe:

  1. Clear your windscreen of any grease or condensation ahead of time to make sure you have a clear view of the road. You should also check that your windscreen wipers work properly, and replace the blades if necessary. 
  2. Check your tyres. Good tread depth will prevent your car from aquaplaning or losing grip on the road. 
  3. Turn on your headlights so other drivers can see you. 
  4. Be mindful of longer stopping distances. The time it takes to react to a hazard (thinking distance) and the time it takes to slow your car down after applying the brakes (braking distance) will be considerably longer in wet weather. 
  5. Keep your distance and remember that driving at the usual speed limit can be dangerous if you don’t leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front. 
  6. Slow down to let your car grip the road better and to give you time to respond to hazards. 
  7. Avoid deep puddles that may cause your car to lose grip or break down.

What should I look out for when driving in flooded conditions? 

We already know that you should look out for oncoming traffic, check the depth of the water and find the highest point of the road, but you should also look out for other hazards. 

There may be downed power lines, debris from a previous accident or even thick mud hidden beneath the surface of the water that can cause you unexpected problems. 

It’s also wise to look out for other types of road users, like motorbike riders, cyclists and pedestrians. Remember, it’s not just rude to splash pedestrians using your car – it’s illegal car under section 3 of the Road Traffic Act and you could be fined or given penalty points for driving “without reasonable consideration for other persons.”

How to cross a ford 

It’s estimated that there are more than 2,000 fords in the UK, so it’s important to know what to do if you come across one. 

There isn’t always a gate to stop you from driving through a ford when it’s unsafe, so you should weigh up the risk yourself. If the water is higher than 10cm you should turn around and find a different route. 15cm of flowing water can be enough to sweep you off your feet so try and gauge the water without wading through it. 

If the conditions appear safe, drive slowly and steadily through the ford to avoid creating large waves. Once you’ve made your way through the water, test your brakes as soon as possible.

Is it better to drive fast through water? 

It’s never a good idea to drive fast through water for two key reasons: 

  • Aquaplaning – your tyres can lose contact with the road, increasing your risk of being swept away.
  • Waves – the faster you drive through water, the greater the size of waves your car might make. The deeper water can get into exhaust pipes or non-watertight areas of your car or other people’s, causing expensive damage.

Frequently asked questions

What should I do if I break down in a flood?

If you break down in a flood stay in your car and phone for help. If you have breakdown cover, you may be able to get towed to a nearby garage. 

Restarting the engine or opening the bonnet could make the initial damage much worse.

Will my car insurance cover flood damage?

You’re most likely to be covered for flood damage with fully comprehensive cover. Even so, you should check the terms and conditions of your policy to be sure.

How can I avoid driving on flooded roads?

To help you avoid travelling in flooded conditions, you can sign up for the Environment Agency’s flood warnings.

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