How to Survive a Sinking Car
Life can change in the blink of an eye, and that's why it makes sense to prepare for serious emergencies the best you can. One life or death situation that you can prepare you and your family for is a vehicle that goes off the road into water.
A submerged vehicle escape may not seem like a high priority to the average motorist, and in all honesty it is a relatively rare situation. But according to the Orlando Sentinel, safety data estimates show that between 1,200 to 1,500 vehicles wind up in the water in the United States every year.
Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that about 1% of highway fatalities results from a submerged vehicle. Florida leads the nation in submerged vehicle fatalities with about 57 per year which may not sound like a lot, but why take the risk of being a statistic when a little preparation can save you or a loved one from this potentially catastrophic event. Any driver who frequently crosses bridges over water should at least prepare themselves.
Here are the steps you can take to safely exit a submerged vehicle:
Experts say to keep your seat belt on until the water reaches a level equal to your chin. This is so that pressures can equalize. The reason you shouldn't try to open the door as the vehicle fills with water is that most likely the pressure against the door will be too much, reaching as high as 600 psi. If you wait, the pressures will equalize by the time you take the deep breath that you hold for exit, allowing you to open the door. They also say that if you take off your seat belt before equalization, you may not be able to hold onto your position when the moment arrives to escape. That means it's a good idea to hold onto the steering wheel during the seconds the car is filling with water. The steering wheel can also provide leverage to pull yourself from the vehicle.
Mythbusters tested the equalization theory and it was true:
We don't like to play passive when it comes to survival, and agree with other experts who suggest to act as quickly as possible. That's because even when pressure is equalized, some serious strength is needed to open the door. That might not even be possible if you are injured on impact. Also, once the door is open the car will completely fill with water and sink. That means you may not have time to reach passengers who are injured or children in the back seat. Seat belts could also jam, making it even harder to escape.
We think the best chance to escape a submerged vehicle is by opening the window to the vehicle as quickly as you can. An open window is a much easier escape. Do this as quickly as possible since the vehicles electronics could stop functioning. The time for escape will be between 30 -120 seconds before becoming trapped and drowning is a real possibility.
Whichever approach you prepare for, take slow controlled breaths to prepare your body for an escape. When your ready, take one deep breath and exit the vehicle. Holding a breath will help your body act like a balloon that helps you to naturally float to the surface after exiting. It will feel like an eternity, but safe escape from a submerged vehicle will take about 30 seconds.
In the event that you cannot get a window down, you can try to break the glass for escape. If you find yourself in this scenario, remain calm. Your best bet is to try to break a side window. Side window glass is designed to shatter when hit at the corners. The middle of the glass will be the hardest and nearly impossible to break. You can also aim for the edges of the glass with a pointed object. Windshields should be a last resort, as they are laminated with several layers, or tempered, and designed to splinter rather than shatter for safety in head on collisions.
Staying calm and thinking clearly is the key to survival in any emergency scenario. That's why we like having the tools for the job so that we have less to think about under pressure. It's a good idea to keep a blunt object like a screwdriver or tool in your vehicle within arms reach for a submerged vehicle scenario. The center armrest storage area is a great choice. The glove box is another area, but you may not be able to reach it when you need to most. There are several survival tools on the market designed to break glass and even cut seat belts. These are small and cheap. There is no reason not to have one in your emergency preparedness kit. We prefer the RESQME Keychain Car Escape Tool. A two pack of these potentially life saving devices costs less than $13 on Amazon.
Please share this post with your friends so they can be prepared for a submerged vehicle escape.