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WT Staff

In search of a flood-smart ride

March 12 2024 - updated March 22, 2024 905 am EDT

Mitigating severe weather
Federal Emergency Management Agecny (FEMA) stores the Summary of Damage Assessments by which a state of emergency is declared, resources and assistance deployed for common disasters. A major disaster State of Emergency was declared in Louisiana during a five-day barrage of severe storms, tornadoes and flooding in May 2021. Later that year, a record 3.15" of rain fell in New York City in an hour creating flooding in five boroughs. The Summary of Damage Assessment for Louisiana Individual Assistance delivered was over $6 million. THe cost of flood related claims has overtaken fire claims, according to the insurance industry. Bearing this in mind, FEMA notes 45.1% of homes impacted in Louisiana in May 2021 were uninsured.

Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the USA. With river channels brimming full and saturated ground, new rounds of spring rain bring a risk of flash flooding.

Federal public safety messaging addressing flooding is directed at drivers:

Turn Around, Donít Drown!

"Never drive through flooded areas. As little as six inches of water can cause you to lose control of your vehicle." - Centres for Disease Control (CDC)
According to the CDC, "The most common flood deaths occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood waters."

WTNY.us spoke with representatives of auto manufacturers at the 2024 International Auto Show to find out which cars come equipped with standard flood safety features. As more vehicles rolling off the lines are fully electric, how might this change the risk for drivers and their passengers when dealing with flooding? We put these questions to Volvo, automotive industry safety leader, to Polestar, to Ford-Lincoln, General Motors and Nissan.

WTNY requested information on standard flood safety features, such as sensors and warning when a car has driven into an unsafe water level. Director of Corporate Communications for Nissan Group of the Americas, Didier Marsaud supplied a statement by email. "I have asked our product team here and based on their knowledge we do not have such features on our vehicles." Mr. Marsaud added that the request has been forwarded to the Nissan engineering team in the US, their response is pending.

Addressing the Ford Motor Company, we heard from Master Technician Greg Quirk, Service Manager at Bayfield Ford-Lincoln in Barrie, Ontario. We asked Mr. Quirk whether Ford or Lincoln had any standard safety features related to flood safety, the response was brief. "Zero."

The matter of flood safety is operational, of course. If a driver is going to go around a barricade and drive through water, that would be operator error. Mr. Quirk says, to his knowledge, there is nothing in the works to implement sensors to tell a driver how deep the water is. Flood sensors, specific safety features for submersion are not something Quirk has heard discussed anywhere in the industry.

Operator error may not be the only cause of vehicles in trouble with flood water. In the event that a driver is caught in a flash flood scenario and cannot move, whether stuck in gridlock, or where it is not possible to back out or turn around, such as on a bridge, a narrow road in the country.

Quirk explained that new vehicles coming off the line today are generally safer, says Quirk, including safer in flood circumstances. Quirk explains, build quality has improved, connections are built weather-tight to limit corrosion, this also helps to keep water out if the vehicle became inundated or partially submerged. Of course no vehicle is air-tight, water will get in through the air intakes, most are located above the headlights. Even if the vehicle is stalled, internal combustion engine, hybrid or fully electric technology being equal in this regard, the interior touch-point components run off the 12V battery. The battery holds enough power to keep the lights on and the windows opening, drivers and occupants should be able to open windows to exit the vehicle even in deep water that has caused a hydro-lock stall engine stall.

Brushless technology in the electrical motors running door locks and windows of today are safer than the older technology. Function of door locks and window controls is far more consistent, the system far less likely to fail in a moment of need. All of these build-quality improvements help to make the vehicles safer overall.

Ultimately, safety is in the hands of the vehicle operator, there are no technology hacks for good judgement. Don't drive around barricades. In the event that you are ever surprised by a flash flood across the roadway a swept into a flooding creek or worse, roll the windows down before you get in deep trouble. More to follow as we hear back from GMC, Toyota-Lexus, Volvo and others.

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