If you ever find yourself in a car accident while submerged in water, you have seconds to act and escape a sinking car before it becomes fully submerged.
You may have seen a person unable to escape a sinking car in the movies or a TV show. But if you put yourself in the same situation, what should you really do?
Don’t call for help while trying to escape a sinking car
Unlike in the movies where the hero gets out of a sinking car with just a little struggle, it’s much more difficult than people think. (And actors have had accidents trying to escape a sinking car, too!)
Expert driver Geoff Fahringer said there is not enough time for rescuers to reach you if you ever find yourself in a sinking car. So you’ll have to save yourself. If you’re going to call for help, do it after you’ve escaped the vehicle.
In such a situation, there’s only a small amount of time to escape a sinking car before the car is completely submerged. That’s why you should’ve already escaped before then. Once the car is underwater, it becomes much more difficult.
5 tips to escape a sinking car
The University of Manitoba’s Gordon Geisbrecht, who trains law enforcement officers and others on underwater-vehicle escape, said a person has about a minute to escape a sinking vehicle.
He detailed his five rules of survival below — plus one caveat.
Don’t call the local emergency hotline until you’re out of the vehicle. Every second is crucial here and should be spent escaping. “Time is critical,” Geisbrecht said. “If you touch your cell phone you’re probably going to die.”
Be calm and unbuckle. In many cases, people have panicked and were unable to unbuckle their seatbelts. And if you can’t keep calm and unbuckle, you won’t be able help save your family.
Even if it’s difficult, don’t let the possibility of struggling with a seatbelt in a sinking vehicle deter you from wearing your seatbelt in the first place. The seatbelt’s job is to make sure you don’t crash through your windshield and into the water.
Do not open the door. Instead, roll down the windows. The water around the vehicle will exert pressure on the door from outside, making it difficult to open. And even if you do succeed in opening the door, it will only let in more water, speeding up the sinking.
Should you be trapped in a submerged car, you have about 30 seconds to a minute before the water rises to the bottom of the passenger windows. Once it does, however, the water pressure will force the window against the doorframe, making it almost impossible to roll down.
Caveat to Rule 3
Break the windows. Most vehicles nowadays have electronically controlled windows. So if the car is submerged, the water will short the circuits making them impossible to roll down. In this case, just break the window.
Once you’ve undone your seatbelt, you can break the window using your elbow, or by kicking it with your feet. You can also use any sharp durable object, such as your high heels! You can also buy hammer-like devices like the LifeHammer or the ResQMe keychain that can shatter glass.
“Make sure these tools are within reach at all times, otherwise you’ll never get to them in time,” Geisbrecht said. “And they won’t work underwater. Again, you’ve got act quickly.”
Children first. Once you’re done unbuckling your seatbelt, help your kids calm down. Then, help them unbuckle if they’re having trouble with their seatbelts.
Children should go out first because they will have a harder time fighting the rush of water. Push them out first. Geisbrecht suggested starting with the eldest kids and taking the youngest in your arms. You can try asking the older kids and your spouse for help.
Get out. Once you’ve broken the windows, get out as fast possible before water starts flooding the inside of the car.
If water was able to fill your car anyway, don’t worry. The pressure on the door from the outside will equalise with the inside, so you’ll be able to open the door. You’ll have to hold your breath as you exit.
You won’t have much time before the car drags you down. Make the most out of the available time and swim as fast as possible once the door is open. Make sure that when you do, there’s no else left behind.
YOU CAN ALSO READ: Safe swimming: How to protect your kids from danger.