How to escape a car that has been submerged under water

About 400 people die each year from drowning inside their own submerged vehicles. Here’s how to escape a car submerged under water.

Prepare for impact

First, if time permits, prepare yourself for the impact. The total area of an automobile causes enough resistance to the surface of the water that it feels like slamming into a tree. Use your arms to form an “X” shape in front of your body. Grab the seatbelt shoulder harness (with your left hand) to stabilize your body. Brace your back against the seat.

Roll down windows and unlock doors

Once the car hits the water, roll down the windows and unlock the doors. It seems counterintuitive but it is critical that this is done as quickly as possible – every second counts when trying to escape a sinking car. Once water reaches the bottom of the windows (takes about 30 seconds to a minute), electrical systems will short out and water pressure will push the windows into the doorframe making them impossible to roll down.

Do not attempt to open the doors. Water pressure against the doors make them nearly impossible to open so don’t even try.

Exit the car

Unbuckle your seatbelt and prepare to exit the car. If children are in the car, unbuckle their seatbelts and attempt to push them through the rushing water. Oldest children should be rescued first followed by younger children carried from the vehicle in your arms. You may need to wait for the incoming rushing water to subside before you can exit the vehicle.

Note: Some recommend keeping your seatbelt on until the incoming rushing water subsides. Water rushing into the car can push your body through the cabin and potentially disorient you.

Additional information

If the automobile is submerged and you were unable to roll down the windows, use a hard, heavy object to break a side window. Do not attempt to break the front windshield – they are designed to break without dislodging from the frame.

More likely, you will require a breakout tool to shatter the glass. These tools use a spring-loaded mechanism to thrust a hardened-steel point into the glass, shattering it instantly. The tools typically do not work underwater so again, you must move quickly to break the glass before the car is submerged.

In the initial moments, resist the urge to call 911. Every second counts. First escape the car – then call 911 emergency services.

If you are disoriented, follow the bubbles – they will rise upward.

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