More than 10,000 submersion accidents happen annually. With drowning events occurring in ponds that are less than 12 feet deep, all motorists should know how to escape their vehicles after veering off the road and into any body of water.
With the right steps, you can escape your vehicle safely and with minimal damage. However, given the outstanding pressure and forces that will be working against you, certain actions and delays could result in life-altering injuries and even death.
Try to Make Your Escape Before Your Vehicle Is Fully Submerged
Your best chance of escaping in a submersion accident is within the first two minutes. Studies show that most vehicles will actually float for a bit before sinking under.
If you’re able to keep your head clear and can take action right away, you should be able to get out of the vehicle well before it’s fully under water.
Rather than opening your doors, try using a side window. Although the windshield is the easiest window glass to shatter, it has a strong protective coating that will keep you from using it as a point of egress.
Deal With Seat belts and Headrests
Remove your seatbelt and encourage all front and rear passengers to do the same. Keep in mind that seatbelts might not retract. Make sure to avoid getting your arms or legs caught in them.
If the head rests in your car are removable, take them out. This will allow everyone to pass between the front and the back easily. Once your head rests are out, you can also use their base to smash open a window if necessary. If your head rests aren’t removable, think about using a:
- Steering wheel security lock
- Brake lock
- An emergency hammer
Although no one ever expects to be submerged in water while driving, keeping an emergency hammer or other emergency window breaker under the seat is always a good idea. If you can access your trunk via the back seat, you can also use your tire iron or car jack.
Remember that all of your most effective escape efforts will take place within the first two minutes of entering a body of water.
Scrounging around in the trunk for a tool strong enough to break windows via backseat access should always be your last resort, and it may not even be possible if you’re in the water, even if you can access the trunk from inside.
Don’t Wait For the Pressure to Equalize
People are often told to wait for the pressure inside of the car to equalize with the pressure outside of the vehicle before opening the door to exit. Doing so requires you to wait until the entire interior has filled up with water and then attempt your escape while holding your breath.
In reality, pressure won’t immediately equalize when the cabin is full. Opening a door under water is always going to require a large amount of force.
Trying to exert this force while holding your breath and forgoing oxygen for any significant stretch is bound to induce panic.
While you might make it out, you probably won’t have much energy left for helping any passengers who remain trapped. The best way to escape a submerged car is always through a side window.
Your front windows are the largest. To increase everyone’s chances of surviving, smash out or roll a front window down before going under water.
Set Your Priorities
Send young passengers out of the vehicle first. Do not try to salvage any personal belongings. Prioritizing human lives is important, even if you feel confident and are making good headway at the very start of sinking.
If you seek legal help for car crash victims after your escape, you can always add the value of your lost items to your settlement request.
The people who are most likely to survive submersion accidents are those who are able to keep their heads. Acting fast gives you the best opportunity to avoid the additional challenge of strong, opposing forces.
Opening or breaking windows before going under, and making sure everyone is free of safety restraints should be your top priorities as soon as your vehicle enters a body of water.