Flood risk managers educate the public on the dangers of driving through flooded roadways, yet losses to life and property continue to occur. This study integrated cultural psychology and risk perception theory to explore how culture, psychological processes, and behavior influence one another. Flood risk managers in Tucson, Arizona collaborated in the development of a questionnaire mailed to local residents. Questions regarding levels of trust, self-efficacy, social autonomy, social incorporation, time perspective, and situational factors were analyzed with respect to whether respondents stated that they have or have not driven through a flooded roadway. Results suggest that respondents’ decisions were influenced by the presence of signs and barricades, passengers, risk of personal injury or damage to the vehicle, and the availability of flood-related information. The most influential factor was the prior successful crossing of other vehicles. These results show the complex interrelations among the cultural factors and provide considerations for future risk perception research.
The results of the survey challenged the flood risk managers’ perceptions of how the general public interprets the warnings and information that they provide. Rather than outright ignoring the information from these sources, people often take the warnings along with various other sources of information such as friends or environmental cues to make decisions. Survey respondents reported that they recognize the possibility of flood danger in intersections with warning signs or barricades, but that because the signs and barricades do not indicate the presence of current danger, they look for other cues such as the depth of water relative to the street curb.
Two of the primary deterrents of crossing behavior – fines and the embarrassment of being labeled a “stupid motorist” – were among the least influential situational factors affecting respondents’ decisions to cross or not to cross. The most influential factor in the decision to cross a flooded roadway was the successful crossing of another vehicle, particularly if that vehicle was perceived as smaller than the respondent’s own vehicle.
Coles, A. 2008. Managing flash floods: Risk perception from a cultural perspective. Master’s thesis for the Department of Geography and Regional Development, University of Arizona.