The monsoon is in full force in Southern Arizona and while most people take that as a sign of relief it also is a time of danger. Every year, local governments put out signs and barricades warning people not to drive through flooded roadways. And every year people ignore the warnings and get stuck. In the last week, the Tucson Fire Department has responded to more than a half-dozen calls for stranded motorists.

But why do people ignore the sign and warnings? Ashley Coles, a graduate student in the University of Arizona’s School of Geography and Development, may have at least some of the answer to that question. Her research shows that people do pay attention to the signs, however, other factors weigh on the decision whether or not to drive through a flooded area. For example, is there an easy alternative route? Or is there a child or family member waiting for them at home and the only way there is through the flood. Coles also says familiarity with the area also helps people decide whether or not to drive through a flooded area.

PHOTO: Mark Duggan
Monsoon clouds over Santa Catalina Mountains.

Coles shared her findings with local government officials and suggested that the warning signs be updated so that they are not always present, even when there is no danger of flooding. She also suggested the distribution of maps showing alternative routes or a smart phone app that does the same thing.

In the meantime, the Tucson Fire Department warns people, “when in doubt, wait it out.” According the National Weather Service more than 100 people across the US died in floods last year and nearly half were in vehicles. In Arizona in 2010, one person died in a flood but that person was not in a vehicle.