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Why motorists decide to drive into danger and cross flooded roadways


Despite efforts to educate the public on the dangers of driving through flooded roadways, losses to life and property continue to occur. New research funded by the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS), a CPO RISA team, shows that drivers demonstrate complex decision-making when confronted with flooded roadways, rather than simple risk-taking or risk-avoidance behaviors. Through a questionnaire developed by flood risk managers in Tucson, Arizona and distributed to local residents, the authors found that respondents indicated high levels of trust in official warning messages and that they share information about floods within their social networks, highlighting the success of education campaigns. However, flood conditions are not always clear — responses suggest motorists have a strong desire for more detailed information about the degree of present danger and how to proceed safely. In addition, even if they know it is dangerous, motorists weigh the dangers against other situational factors on a case-by-case basis. For instance, factors that influence motorists’ decision include seeing other vehicles that have already successfully crossed a flooded area, the presence of signs and barricades, presence of passengers in their vehicle, whether or not the driver knows another possible route, risk of personal injury or damage to the vehicle, and the availability of flood-related information. Importantly, the results show that individuals who know how to avoid floods, including asking others within their social networks for advice, are less likely to enter flooded roadways. Therefore, communicating further decision-support instructions, such as alternate route maps, will empower more motorists to avoid danger.

View the early online release »


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