Weather Center

High Water? Take the High Road

By Mary O. Parker 4.1.16

Texas tops the nation in annual flood-related deaths with a figure twice as high as the second-highest state, California. Of those deaths, 65 percent resulted from people driving in hazardous waters.

Turn around, don’t drown

If you come to water on a roadway that appears to be more than 6 inches deep, heed the advice of the National Weather Service: “Turn around, don’t drown.” Rather than driving through water, turn back and take an alternate route to your destination. And never drive around barricades; emergency personnel put them there for good reason, and removing barricades is illegal.

Impact on insurance

Taking chances on the road during severe weather may also be taking chances with your insurance coverage.

Sean Hartgrove, a Texas Farm Bureau Agent based in Harris County, has worked with vehicle flood incidents for years. The NWS considers the Houston area one of the nation’s worst urban flood zones.

“During our last major storm here, there were six deaths from people driving their cars into water,” Hartgrove says. “We’re finding that all insurance companies are getting tougher on people who knowingly drive through storm waters.”

Flood driving tips

In some cases, floodwaters can catch you off guard. If you absolutely have to drive through high water and cannot find any alternate routes, follow these safety tips:

  • Estimate the water’s depth. As little as 6 inches of water poses a serious risk of damaging and stalling your vehicle.
  • Look around. If there are downed power lines, do not proceed — electrical current travels through water. Also watch for items traveling downstream that could trap you or block your path.
  • Take it slow. Drive with caution, as slowly and steadily as possible.
  • If your vehicle stalls, leave it and get yourself to safety. Don’t wait for help in your car since only 1 foot of water can cause it to float. Get out, find higher ground, and dial 911 for assistance.

When the damage is done

From airbags to brakes, and electrical and computer systems to rust and mold, a vehicle that’s been even partially submerged can experience serious problems. That’s when auto insurance coverage comes in handy.

A comprehensive auto policy covers most repairs after the deductible. If your vehicle gets taken away by floodwaters or is otherwise totaled, you might receive actual cash value for it.

As for the contents inside your vehicle, all is not lost. “Your homeowners or renter’s insurance policy includes an extension to help cover those items,” Hartgrove says.

After paying your deductible, you’ll receive the actual cash value of the items in your car that were lost or damaged, up to 10 percent of the contents’ coverage on the homeowners policy.

Stay prepared

Water can rise in a flash. Central Texas — known as “Flash Flood Alley” — frequently gets hit the hardest. Even without record-setting rainfall, roads can still collect dangerous amounts of water rapidly. Throughout the state’s 80,000 miles of roadways are numerous low-water crossings where creeks can turn into raging rivers in a heartbeat.

It’s wise to keep an emergency kit in your car with items like a flashlight, flares, bottled water, and a weather radio. 

Find more tips on severe weather preparedness and auto safety on our blog.