Skip to main content
Back to Latest News

If your vehicle is going underwater, seconds count. Here are 4 tips to help you survive.

C. A. Bridges

How to escape from a submerged vehicle 
Corporal Geoffrey Fahringer of the Collier County Sheriff's Office demonstrates how to escape from a sinking vehicle. 

Florida is one of the top five states for fatalities in crashes "where the most harmful event for the vehicle" was being partially or fully submerged in water, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. An estimated 350-400 people die in submersion crashes every year in North America.

"Drowning in a submerged vehicle is actually the number one cause of death in single-vehicle car accidents," said Corporal Geoffrey Fahringer of the Collier County Sheriff's Office.

It's a driver's worst nightmare. And it happened this week when five teens died after the car they were in crashed into a retention pond and sank.

As soon as the vehicle you're in hits the water, seconds count. Dark, murky water will begin to enter the car and the pressure will start to push you up toward the roof. You may not be able to see very well, or at all. Here's what to do:

Step 1: Stay calm

Easy to say, hard to do. But panicking will only make things worse and you're more likely to make mistakes. Time is of the essence.

Some research has shown that, depending on how you entered the water, your vehicle may float for 30 seconds or more before sinking. You can get a lot done in 30 seconds if you stay calm.

Do not attempt to call 911. Your main focus should be getting yourself and everyone in the vehicle out. Call 911 after that.

Step 2: Unbuckle your seat belt

You do not want to be restrained when the car is sinking and you're trying to free yourself. Take off your seatbelt immediately and make sure others around you have done the same and are ready to leave the vehicle. If there are children in the car, unbuckle the oldest ones first so they can help with the younger ones.

If a child is in a car seat, unbuckle them and bring them close to you so you can get them out more easily. While push-button car seat buckets are easy to unlatch, if your car seat has a chest clip it can be hard to unhook it with water rushing in. Make sure you know how to free your child. Remember, your visibility may be limited or completely gone.

Step 3: Roll down the windows

You will be getting out of the vehicle through the windows. Roll them down as soon as you can, ideally before the waterline gets to them when it is much easier to get out.

"The number one way to get out of this vehicle is get the window down and simply get out of the vehicle," Fahringer said.

Speed is vital because as the vehicle sinks, the pressure of the water pushing the windows against the window frame may prevent them from opening even if your automatic windows are still working. Even manual windows can be hard to open underwater. Most automatic windows still will continue to work for some time after being submerged, Fahringer said.

Do not try to open a door; even if you are able to, the rushing water may slam it shut again, potentially hurting you or catching your clothing, and an open door will cause the vehicle to fill with water much more quickly.

Some tips on surviving a submerged vehicle reverse this order, suggesting you open the windows before releasing seatbelts, but you should be doing both so quickly the order may not matter.

If you can't roll a window down, try to break it with an escape tool. A study by AAA showed that spring-loaded ones are best, as hammer-style tools can be difficult or impossible to swing underwater. Escape tools should be kept somewhere easy to access, on a keychain or attached to the dashboard. After a collision, something stored under a seat or in a glovebox may be hard to get to.

Try to break the side windows. Windshields are thicker and will be more difficult to break. Escape tools also may have difficulty with laminated windows.

Remember that water will come rushing in quickly once you open the windows, but you still should be able to push through it to get out of the vehicle.

Step 4: Exit the vehicle

Get out through the windows, children first. If you have a small child, push them out the window first and then follow immediately and get hold of them.

"If you have children in the vehicle," Fahringer said, "get your oldest child out first. Have him or her hold on to the vehicle. Hand any other children out to your oldest child and then you exit out the window yourself."

Once you are free from the vehicle, float or swim to the surface and get to safety. Then call 911.

What if I can't get a window open?

If you are completely unable to open or break a window, remain calm. As a last resort, you can try moving everyone to the rear of the vehicle as that will be the last portion to fill with water and the weight of the engine pulls the front down. Some experts say that once the vehicle is full of water the pressure will equalize and may allow you to open a door and escape.

However, there is no guarantee that it will take less time for the pressure to equalize than you can hold your breath.

Fahringer urges speed. "There is no air bubble. There is no magic opening the door."

In a classic Mythbusters episode, co-host Adam Savage waited in a car submerged in a swimming pool to see if he could open the door once the car was completely full of water. He was finally able to open it, but not before running out of air.


Original Article LINK


Scroll to top of page