The only sure way for drivers not to drown when crossing flooded rural roads is not to cross them, says Gordon Giesbrecht, associate dean at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation.
Even if a road isn’t washed out — something drivers can’t see — it takes just 18 inches of water to float a vehicle making it vulnerable to being washed into deeper water where it will sink. And fast.
It took less than three minutes from the time a maroon Dodge Neon hit the water flowing across Alarie Road until it sunk out of sight here on Monday, during a demonstration Giesbrecht and the RCMP organized.
Not much time to escape into the frigid, fast moving Marsh River in the RM of De Salaberry. Fortunately, the car was empty, this time.
But the sad truth is 61-year Raymond Stott drowned April 6 when he tried to ford this same flooded road.
“Still waters sometimes run deep,” Gary Stott, one of Raymond’s brothers, said during an interview following the demonstration.
Stott said he hopes the demonstration, and the resulting news coverage, will prevent other drivers from drowning.
The Stotts, like many other rural folks, have lived in this area all their lives and have been through floods before. When his brother left home in the morning the road was dry, Gary said. It’s believed Raymond’s truck was swept off the road around 9:30 p.m. It would’ve been dark. He might not have even seen the water until he was in it.
The best advice, if a driver has a choice, is not to cross a flooded road, Giesbrecht says.
If the driver determines the road isn’t washed out, the water is less than six to 12 inches inches deep and the current isn’t strong enough to wash the vehicle off the road, he or she might attempt to carry on.
In those cases car seat belts should be removed and the windows opened in case something goes wrong, Giesbrecht says.
When vehicles unexpectedly end up in deep water, occupants should get out immediately. Adults should first open the car windows, remove their seat belts, then unbuckle the kids, and get everybody out.
As a vehicle sinks water pressure makes it impossible to open the doors. Once the car completely fills with water the pressure is equalized, but by then the passengers will have drowned, says Giesbrecht.
Some people in sinking cars grab their cell phones and call 911. Don’t. There isn’t enough time.
Every car should also have a safety device called a Res QMe with the driver’s reach hanging from the rear view mirror or sun visor, Giesbrecht says. The Res QMe has a spring-loaded centre punch that can shatter a car window instantly. They are available from the Canadian Automobile Association and safety stores.