By now, you probably don't remember who Christopher Lao is. He's the guy who infamously made his Nissan Sentra swim like an aquatic creature in front of a TV news camera no less. His fifteen minutes of fame, countless Internet memes, and another less-than-viral marketing campaign are all over; but the lesson we could all take from that incident should serve as a permanent reminder of how we can make more intelligent decisions on the road, particularly when the weather is less than cooperative. And with the advent of the rainy season yet again, it's great to refresh ourselves with the proper way of crossing through a flood.
If You Can, Avoid Crossing
In North America, nearly half of all flood-related deaths occur in vehicles. And most of these deaths take place when people drive onto flooded roads. That’s a very alarming statistic. So, the simplest tip of crossing a flooded road: if you can avoid crossing it in the first place, then don’t cross it at all. If you can, wait the flood out or take a detour. Stay at a coffee shop or do some window shopping. It may take extra hours to get home, but at least you won’t be going home in a box (or complain about your two-ton paper weight in front of the camera). If your gut-feel tells you it’s dangerous to cross that road, it’s probably right.
Consider this fact from the United States Search and Rescue Task Force: for each foot the water rises, 500 pounds (226 kilograms) of lateral force is applied to the car. For each foot the water rises up the side of a stopped (or stalled) car, the car displaces 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms) less for each foot the water rises. Therefore, a stationary car will float in just two feet (60 cm) of flooded water.
Stop, Look, and Listen
If there’s an emergency or you just want to go home that badly then stop, look, and listen before attempting to cross an inundated road. There’s no way for you to determine the exact height of flood waters, but you can use landmarks to determine the level of the water. Road sign, markers, and even curbs allow you to ascertain the depth. If you’re not familiar with the area, you can ask traffic enforcers, policemen or even check the MMDA twitter feed to let you know if that area’s passable or not.
If you still feel that it’s unsafe to cross the flooded area, you can always wait until another vehicle takes the plunge. By allowing someone else to go first, you’ll be able to tell the depth of the water and establish if driving on it is worth the risk to your life and vehicle.
Slowing Down Will Get You Through
Even when the flood’s just a couple of centimeters, always remember to drive cautiously and reduce your speed. A thin sheet of water can cause you to hydroplane—a dangerous scenario in which you lose control of your vehicle because you skidded over the road surface. Remember, tires have a limit and the best of them cannot cope with copious amounts of water.
When you’ve decided to forge ahead and take the plunge through the flood waters, always remain in first gear. You need to keep your engine revs up while remaining in low speeds. In a manual transmission car, that’s easy: simply keep your car in first gear, depress the clutch to help rev the engine. In an automatic transmission car, shift to L or 1 and then apply the throttle.
Courteous to Others, Safety to You
The best way to negotiate a flooded street is to remain at a safe and comfortable distance away from the vehicle ahead and behind you. Aim to drive through the crown of the road (normally the middle part) as it’s the highest part. Drive slowly and avoid creating a ‘bow wave’—a large wave of water in front of your vehicle, as it can easily swamp the other cars beside you. And remember, a large enough bow wave will make water wash back into your engine, which can damage it irreparably.
Once through of the flood water, remember to tap on your brakes repeatedly to dry them off. If you can pull over to the side of the road, do a spot check to make sure that all your car’s systems are working in order before driving off. If you’ve noticed something wrong (i.e. electronics going crazy), and your car remains drivable, head to the nearest repair shop. Otherwise, don’t risk it and call for roadside assistance.
Your Car Isn’t Worth Your Life
If at any time during the crossing you feel your wheels start to lose grip, it could be that your car is trying to float. Rather than risk losing control of your car and floating about in flood water, you have to counter this floating sensation by sacrificing your car by allowing some water into it. This will effectively weigh it down, enabling the tires to grip again. If you have a passenger, best let him or her do this so you can concentrate on driving and continuously revving the engine.
And if you need to abandon your vehicle for your safety, then do so. Whatever your car, even if you’ve got three years worth of amortization remaining, it’s not worth your life. And besides, you ticked off ‘Acts of God’ coverage in your car’s insurance, right?