Every time you travel in a car, different dangers and risks arise. Traveling in a moving vehicle can be dangerous whether you are the driver of the car or a passenger. Although many car accidents occur because a driver is distracted, ignores a traffic law, or is negligent in driving the vehicle, accidents sometimes occur through no fault of the driver. Accidents can be caused by poor weather conditions, defects in the vehicle, or hazards in the road. There are countless reasons why an accident may occur. Most drivers accept these risks and prepare themselves mentally for the possibility of an accident or collision.
One type of accident that most drivers do not think about, however, is being trapped in a car that is submerged in water. In reality, over 10,000 accidents occur each year that involve cars being immersed in a body of water. Approximately 400 of those accidents result in someone drowning in their submerged vehicle. In fact, a sinking car is the cause of approximately 10 percent of all drowning deaths.
The best thing you can do to avoid drowning in a sinking car is to educate yourself on what to do if that situation becomes a reality. Understanding what to do to escape a submerged vehicle can be the difference between an accident and a tragedy. If you follow the proper steps while acting quickly and calmly, you can free yourself and your passengers from a sinking car and make your way to safety.
How Does a Car Become Submerged in a Body of Water?
There are various reasons why a car may become submerged in water. It could be the result of an environmental factor or may be caused by an act or omission of the driver.
One possible cause that is difficult to think about is a bridge collapse. According to the Federal Highway Administration, nearly 12 percent of bridges in the United States are “structurally deficient.” This means that a bridge that you drive over every day may pose a danger to collapse at any time. A structurally deficient bridge could collapse while traffic is heavy or when there are very few cars occupying it. There will likely be no warning when a bridge falls from under you, and there will be nothing you can do at the time to prevent the bridge from falling. Although it seems like something that only happens in the movies, a bridge collapse is possible, and it is important for drivers and passengers to be aware of this possibility.
Additionally, poor road conditions could result in a car skidding off the road and into a body water. If a road or bridge is not properly maintained, there could be portions of the guardrail missing or damaged. This will result in less protection designed to prevent cars and their passengers from skidding into a surrounding body of water. Large potholes or cracks in the road also can cause drivers to swerve off the road or cause a wreck that sends a vehicle into the water.
In addition to environmental factors, a distracted or careless driver could be the reason a car ends up sinking in water. A driver who is distracted or drowsy poses a risk to himself and his passengers, especially while driving near water. Drivers and passengers should be alert and ready to react to sudden accidents at any time. This includes knowing what to do if a vehicle is submerged in water.
What Are Five Tips for Escaping a Sinking Car?
If you find yourself in a sinking car and do not know what to do, your natural reaction likely will be to panic. This is the worst thing you can do. From the moment your car begins to submerge in water, you will need to make important decisions, and they will need to be made quickly. Understanding the correct steps to take when your car starts to sink and planning to implement those steps in advance may save your life and the lives of your passengers.
Here are five steps to follow if you find yourself trapped in a sinking car:
Step 1: Stay Calm
If your car is submerged in water, panicking will only make your situation worse. Instead, having a clear head will be fundamental to your survival. You will need to do your best to stay calm, think clearly, and act quickly.
Research on sinking cars shows that a vehicle will typically float for 30 to 120 seconds before completely sinking. This means that your escape will depend on the actions you take within the first two minutes after the car hits the water. If you spend that time panicking, you have lost your best opportunity to get out safely.
Step 2: Roll Down All the Windows
As soon as your car hits the water, roll down the windows. This will be your exit from the vehicle once it is completely submerged. You will want to get the windows down before the waterline rises to the height of the windows. This is a critical step because as the car sinks, the pressure of the water may prevent the windows from rolling down, even if you have automatic windows. In fact, automatic windows do not immediately short circuit when underwater, so even if you get a late start, you should still be able to get the windows open before the pressure is too great.
Manual windows will also be more difficult to roll down the deeper the car goes into the water. If you are entirely unable to roll the windows down, break the windows with something in the car. Do not try to break the windshield. The windshield is the thickest glass in the car and will be extremely difficult to break from inside the vehicle.
Step 3: Take Off Your Seatbelt
The last thing you want when inside a sinking car is to be restrained while trying to free yourself from the vehicle. Take off your seatbelt quickly so that you are able to move freely inside the car. If your buckle is stuck, try to cut your seatbelt to free yourself.
Step 4: Assist Other Passengers
Once you are able to move freely inside the vehicle, check on those around you, especially if there are children in the car. Unlatch any car seat restraining the child and help older children unbuckle their seatbelts. Instruct them to exit the car through the window closest to them or bring them to the front seat to escape the car with you.
Step 5: Climb through the Window and Swim to Safety
Once you have made it this far, climbing out of the window will be easiest when and if the waterline is still below the car window. If the waterline is past the window when you are ready to climb out, it will be more difficult due to the water coming into the vehicle while you are trying to get out, but it is still very possible to do so.
Once you have climbed through the window, push off the car and swim to the surface. If you have a small child with you in the front seat, put them through the window first and follow after them to assist them to the surface.
What Should I Avoid Doing When Trapped in a Sinking Car?
While there are critical steps to take to successfully escape a sinking car, there also are some things you should avoid doing that will make your situation worse.
- Do not open the doors. It may be your first survival instinct when your car hits the water to try to open the car door to get out of the vehicle. However, this will only cause the car to fill with water more quickly and sink more rapidly. In addition, it is incredibly difficult to open a car door with water in front of it. The chances of successfully getting out of the car this way are minimal, and this attempt will be detrimental for any passengers you leave in the car.
- Do not wait for the car to fill with water. When the car starts sinking under the water, the water pressure outside the car will make opening the car door virtually impossible, no matter how strong you are. Drivers are sometimes advised to wait until the car fully fills up with water for the pressure on the inside and outside of the car to equalize. The idea here is that when the pressure equalizes, the car door can be opened with ease for escape.
While it may be true that the car door may open more easily once the pressures equalize, the inside and outside pressure will not equalize immediately after the car is completely submerged. You may find yourself stuck in a car filled with water and unable to open the car door for several minutes before the pressures equalize. You will be forced to hold your breath and hope you can open the door before you run out of time. This is not a risk you want to take when there are much better options for a successful escape.
Are You Prepared to Escape a Sinking Car?
Anyone can quickly become a victim to an accident that results in a vehicle being submerged in a body of water. It may happen quickly and without warning. The actions you take immediately upon hitting the water are critical for your survival.
Whether you are a driver or a passenger, there are important steps to take to remove yourself from a sinking car to safety. Remember to stay calm, keep the doors closed, and lower the windows to climb through. Try to assist any passengers in the car if you are able and if they need help. Following these steps will significantly increase your chances of escaping a sinking car and reaching safety.
Have You Been Injured in a Kansas City Motor Vehicle Accident?
If you've been hurt in a Kansas City motor vehicle accident you need to speak with an experienced motor vehicle accident attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our Kansas City office directly at 816.249.2101 to schedule your free consultation.