Our Opinion: Don’t try driving into floodwater; that trip can wait

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Now’s about the time cabin fever sets in — Wilson County Schools canceled classes on Thursday and Friday, and the whole family’s been cooped up indoors riding out Hurricane Florence.

As we write this, water’s still coming down in buckets. When the wind and rain have largely subsided, a mixture of boredom and curiosity could coax Wilsonians into their cars and funnel traffic onto flooded roads for some post-storm sightseeing.

Someone has to say it, and former Gov. Pat McCrory isn’t around to tell us “Don’t put your stupid hat on,” so here goes: If the trip isn’t essential, stay home. This isn’t the weekend to wander. It’s no time for a Sunday drive. These aren’t cruising conditions.

About 75 people die each year from driving into floodwater. The Federal Emergency Management Agency tells us that 6 inches of standing water is enough to stall most passenger cars, a foot of water could cause your vehicle to float and even stout SUVs and sturdy pickup trucks will be swept away in two feet of rushing water.

“Turn around, don’t drown” is a mantra that bears repeating in Wilson. In October 2016, two drivers lost their lives in the flooding that followed Hurricane Matthew. Even in periods of heavy rain unconnected to tropical cyclones, we see stranded cars in the same low-lying, floodprone intersections time after time.

Some drivers are so irresponsible that they’ll ignore emergency barricades set up around flooded stretches of road and try to breeze on through, most often getting hopelessly stuck. That’s such a local phenomenon that a Contentnea volunteer firefighter started an online petition in 2016 to make that kind of recklessness a criminal offense throughout the state.

Getting trapped in floodwater can be fatal or life-threatening, requiring water rescues. When it’s not dangerous, it’s just plain irritating. Motorists who leave stalled cars in too-deep puddles and sheepishly wade out won’t find much sympathy from fellow Wilsonians who know better than to speed through standing water.

Police and firefighters have their hands full this weekend. Tow truck drivers, too. Don’t waste their time by turning your car into waterlogged debris that trained professionals will have to clear from the road.

Some motorists will be called in to work, will need to visit hospitals and pharmacies or will otherwise have valid reasons to drive. In these limited cases, use extreme caution, and if an intersection or portion of the road is flooded, turn around. Find an alternate route or go back the way you came.

Precious few destinations are worth risking your life to reach. If getting there is a bona fide emergency — say someone’s having a baby or has suffered a heart attack — pull over and call 911 instead of driving into the water.

Before so much as a drop of rain from Hurricane Florence fell, the city of Rocky Mount had established an overnight curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Thursday through Saturday to keep civilians in their homes and off the roads. Sharpsburg set a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Thursday through Monday. The Wilson Times has long opposed such heavy-handed authoritarian measures, as they show profound disrespect to a community’s residents and treat adult citizens like helpless children.

Wilson city leaders clearly think more of their constituents than their counterparts in Sharpsburg and Rocky Mount, as there are no nanny-state curfews here. But just because we’re free to roam flooded roads doesn’t mean it’s prudent to do so. With freedom comes responsibility.

We wouldn’t support mandatory curfews and martial law in Wilson, but if drivers making bad decisions place a strain on our emergency resources during and immediately after a hurricane, we could hardly blame the mayor and city council for considering such extreme measures. Let’s make sure city leaders’ faith in Wilsonians’ common sense isn’t misplaced.

We hope Wilson County and all of eastern North Carolina will be spared the worst of Florence’s fury this weekend. And we urge everyone to make wise choices in order to keep themselves and their families safe.

“Turn around; don’t drown.” Don’t put your stupid hat on. Those post-storm errands can wait until the roads are clear.