A man watches cars cross a flooded road during a weather event between Bangalow and Lismore in 2001. Photo: Adam Ward.
A man watches cars cross a flooded road during a weather event between Bangalow and Lismore in 2001. Photo: Adam Ward.

The real reasons why people drive into floodwater

Experts in emergency response, psychologists and risk communication have looked deep into the reasons why people defy warnings and drive through flooded waters.

A public survey by the CRC, distributed between December 2018 and January 2019, tried to explain why people engage on such risky behaviour.

More than half of the 2184 respondents had driven through or been driven through floodwater, and 41 per cent had been through floodwater on more than one occasion in the past five years.

Of the 1167 people who reported driving into floodwater in the survey, a fifth were returning home from work, and a further 17 per cent were either on holiday, sightseeing or on a leisure drive.

Of the 1167 people who reported driving into floodwater in the survey, the vast majority of participants (90.7 per cent) reported they drove through floodwater without any negative consequences.

Read more>>> Floodwater driver who had to be rescued to be fined

The scientific work is also looking for effective ways to deter people from doing it in the first place.

The results of this research will help to development public communication guidelines, and the establishment of a set of national community safety announcements for use by the ABC in emergency broadcasting.

Radhiya Fanham, from the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre (CRC),

said floods were the highest global cause of fatalities from natural hazards, and the second highest in Australia.

"It makes sense that plenty of flood risk communication campaigns have been instituted over the years. The question is: are they effective?"

Associate Professor Melanie Taylor, Occupational Psychologist at Macquarie University and lead researcher of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC Flood risk communication project, said while previous research had identified the reasons behind flood fatalities, not enough research had investigated the behavioural aspect of entering floodwater.

Read more>> SES warns motorists to not drive through flood water

NSW SES flood rescue coordinator, Carl Manning, said his organisation will be using this behavioural science to consider when undertaking future flood rescue operations.

Mr Manning said the most common poor decision he had seen people make was underestimating the effect of floodwater.

"Floodwater is always more powerful than people expect, and the sheer force of the water alone is something people don't anticipate when entering it," he said.

The NSW SES is currently reviewing their messaging and flood risk management procedures to look at how they can better structure their risk messaging.

 

Historic: Lismore: Floods 1954 Men retrieve a car from the flooded streets of Lismore in the 1954 flood. Photo The Northern Star Archives
Historic: Lismore: Floods 1954 Men retrieve a car from the flooded streets of Lismore in the 1954 flood. Photo The Northern Star Archives


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