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What To Do If You Are Caught In A Flood While Driving?

Every year, Malaysia experiences a monsoon season that starts sometime around early November and ends around the end of March. It affects the whole country with the East Coast being affected most. Too often, major floods happen, shattering many people’s lives and livelihoods. Despite it being an annual occurrence, nothing much has been done to alleviate the situation and it seems like it keeps on getting worse.

Being in the city is no different as KL city does get flooded whenever there is a heavy downpour. There are many factors that cause it with clogged drains being one of them. Safe to say, the chances for us Malaysians to get stuck in a flood while driving is relatively high. This article will be focusing on what to do if you get caught in a flood while driving your car.

What to do when faced with a flood?

First and foremost, stay out of flooded areas altogether, even if the water looks calm. Not only is it dangerous for you but it is also dangerous for the rescuers who have to go in after you. If you really have no choice but to drive through a flooded area, there are a few things you need to look out for:

Identify the cause of the flood

  • Firstly, identify the cause of the flood. A flood because of an overflowing river is different from a flood that is because of a poor drainage system. The former would have a potentially strong current, even if it is shallow, while the latter would be still.
  • If it is the former, it is best to stop the car and turn around. Many accidents happen because people underestimate the depth of the water and the strength of the current. There was a recent viral video of a lorry trying to cross a shallow flooded river, only to be pushed away by the current into the trees.

Driving through still water

  • If it is the latter – i.e., still water -, try to estimate the depth of the water by looking at the curbs. Generally speaking you can go through water about the depth of the height of the wall of your tyre, i.e. no higher than touching the actual rim of the wheel.
    • Drive very slowly and steadily in a low gear, keeping your engine at a high rev until you are out of the water.
    • This will prevent water from entering the exhaust pipe which can bring a lot of damage to the car.
    • Driving slowly also reduces the risk of losing control of your steering wheel.
    • Do not lift your foot from the pedal midway! That will let water enter the exhaust.
  • If you can’t see the curb, it is safe to assume that the water is quite deep, making it very risky to proceed even if you are in a tall vehicle like an SUV or a truck. One of the dangers is that you won’t be able to see if you are approaching a drain or a pothole (another one of Malaysia’s woes).
  • It is also dangerous because as little as 6 inches (approximately 15 cm) of water can make you lose control of your vehicle. The higher the water, the more dangerous it is because your tyres can act as a floatation device. Two feet (approximately 61 cm) of water is enough to float a 1.5 ton (3,000 lbs) car. For comparison, a 2019 Honda Civic weighs about 1.25 ton (2,762 lbs).

What if my car stalls?

Even with all the precautions, it is still possible for the car to stall while trying to drive through, especially when the exhaust is below the water level. When that happens, there are some things you should and should not do:

  • Do not attempt to start the engine as that may damage the engine. 
  • Switch on the hazard lights to alert other drivers.
  • If the water reaches the bottom of the car door, it is crucial to leave the car immediately and get to higher ground.
  • Do not wait until the car is submerged in higher water as the water pressure will push against the car door, making it difficult to open and leaving you trapped inside.
  • At this point, the water should be shallow enough to walk to safety. Do not climb onto the roof of your car to wait as you won’t know how high the water level will be, and it could get much higher in a short amount of time. It is safer to seek higher ground in this scenario.
  • When walking through the flood, keep your body low so that your centre of gravity is lowered, giving you more stability.
  • Take small steps and shuffle sideways until you reach safety.
  • Once on safe grounds, call a tow truck to tow your car to your workshop or the nearest possible one.

What to do if I’m trapped in the car in deep water?

It is important to address what to do if you are trapped in a car with water rising around you, or you have driven off the road into deep water.

  • First and most importantly, do not panic. Stay calm and try to keep a clear mind. Panicking will blur your thoughts, making it difficult to think straight.
  • Roll down the window immediately. 
    • As most cars use an electric window nowadays, it is crucial to wind down the window while you still can as that will be your only way out.
  • If your windows won’t open, do not break the windows if the water level has gone past the windows, because the water pressure from outside will make the glass explode inward towards you. The water pressure will also prevent you from opening the door.
  • In this situation, you need to let the water pressure equalize before you can open the door, meaning you have to wait for the water to fill up the inside of your car to about neck level. It is easy to panic at this point with the water rising in the car, but that is what needs to happen to be able to open the door.
  • If there are multiple occupants in the car, once you have established an escape route, everyone should hold hands and form a human chain and exit from the same route.
  • As soon as you open the door, the next safe step in this scenario is to get onto the roof of the car.
    • Clarification: This scenario is different from the previous one, where the water level is below the knees. If the water level is waist height and above and faster than 7 kmph, you will likely be swept away.
    • In this scenario, the water level has gone past the doors, halfway through the windows or even more, but the roof of the car is still out of the water.
  • As the water level keeps on rising, the car may drift away. The action you take will perhaps depend on the situation that you are in. You will have to make a decision whether to stay low and hang on, or swim aggressively to safety. Whatever you decide, your chances of survival will be higher outside the car than if you drift away while still trapped in the car. 

Better to be safe and avoid it altogether

Being stuck in a flood while driving is a very hazardous situation, so the best decision is to do everything possible to avoid it. Watch the weather forecasts before you set out on a journey. Carefully check your route when travelling in bad weather or through flood prone areas. As with all driving emergencies, prevention is better than cure. 

Knowledge is power! Stay safe!