The Environment Agency - England and Wales

18 million UK drivers could end up in deep water


More than half (54%) of UK drivers would endanger themselves and their vehicles by driving through moving flood water, according to a joint Environment Agency and AA survey.

The research of 21,165 AA members, carried out by Populus*, also revealed that more than a quarter (27%) of respondents would drive through moving flood water deeper than 30cm, which is enough to move a car. The Environment Agency and the AA strongly advise not entering flood water that is moving or more than 10cm deep.

A third of flood-related deaths involve a vehicle because drivers take unnecessary risks. Last year, the second wettest on record in the UK, claimed the lives of several motorists. In the same period, the AA rescued almost 9,000 vehicles that had driven through or were stuck in flood water, with an estimated insurance bill of more than £34 million.

The survey found that:

  • more than two-fifths (42%) of drivers would blindly follow the vehicle in front if it had crossed a flooded road successfully;
  • the equivalent of 680,000 drivers would ignore a ‘road closed’ warning sign and drive down a flooded road rather than take a short detour – this is dangerous, an offence and insurers could reject any flood damage claim;
  • people aged between 55 and 64 are most likely to risk driving through the deepest flowing flood water (up to 34cm);
  • men would attempt to drive through deeper water (up to 34cm) than women (up to 27cm); and
  • those living in North East England would attempt to drive through deeper water (up to 34cm) than anywhere else in the UK.

‘Tragically people die because they’ve taken risks and attempted to drive through flood water just to save a few minutes. Flood water is dangerous, dirty and it can carry disease. If there is widespread flooding in your area then don’t travel and if a road is closed then turn around and make a detour. Your journey could take you a little longer but making the right decision could ultimately save your life,’ said Adele Needham for the Environment Agency.

‘You can check the flood forecast on the Environment Agency website to help you plan. It is tempting to think you're safe from the dangers of floodwater in some big vehicles like 4x4s and vans, but the fact is, that you aren't. You only have to see how many people were rescued by firefighters during the floods in Somerset last year or the flash floods in East Devon to understand just how many people do risk it.’

Recently, the Environment Agency in the South West has been trialling the hi-tech signs at three blackspots in the West Country where drivers have previously been rescued after becoming trapped by floodwater. The lights were introduced as part of a ‘Think Don’t Sink’ campaign that aims to raise awareness of the dangers of flooded roads. The trial has proved so successful, it will shortly be extended to several new sites.

The lights, that are similar in size to standard speed limit signs, are linked by telemetry to nearby watercourses and immediately start flashing when water levels reach the point where a road has flooded. The word ‘Flood’ is clearly visible to approaching drivers. Signs are positioned either side of a flooding blackspot at the point where motorists can chose an alternative route and avoid being trapped in their vehicle. Often they are in Rapid Response Catchments where conditions can change quickly following heavy rain and water levels rise with little warning.

The Environment Agency has also backed Cornwall Fire and Rescue’s own campaign ‘Turn around, don’t drown’.

To find out if you are at risk and to sign up for free flood warnings go to: or call Floodline on 0845 988 1188.

Darron Burness, head of the AA’s flood rescue team, said: ‘The 9,000 vehicles driven into flood water that the AA attended last year tell only half the story. There are thousands of other drivers who, perhaps unwittingly, came so close to coming a cropper. Three-quarters of cars that get stuck are written-off as it only takes a tiny amount of ingested water to wreck the engine.

‘You're also putting yourself at risk as flood water can mask all manner of hazards, for example open manholes, and just one foot or 30 centimetres of moving water can float your car. Moving flood water, particularly, is powerful, relentless and deceptively dangerous, so just stay out.’

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