A Massachusetts woman made an unexpected 9-1-1 call on December 14th when she swerved to avoid a head-on collision and her car careened into a river.
Debora Wrigley Dooley called for help when she realized the water was too fast and deep for her to save herself. The water was high enough to partially fill the car, but not high enough that Debora was in immediate danger of drowning. Rescue crews arrived within 4 minutes, and the current had already swept the car 150 yards downstream. Rescuers were able to quickly retrieve Debora from the car without serious injury.
An average of 300 Americans die each year in submerged cars. In her particular situation, Debora did the right thing by staying where she was and calling 9-1-1. But what if she had driven into a deep lake, instead, and started to sink?
In water deep enough to engulf a car, experts suggest leaving your phone behind and saving yourself. And you may be surprised to hear that the previously popular method of waiting for the water pressure to equalize, then opening the door, is no longer the suggested escape method. So, would you know what to do? If not, read on, because a few simple tips can make a world of difference.
How to Escape a Sinking Car
You have about one minute to escape a car that has fallen or driven into deep water. Dr. Gordon Geisbrecht of the University of Manitoba has performed over 80 test vehicle submersions. He says performing these four steps in quick succession gives you the best chance of escape:
Let’s look at each step in more detail:
Seatbelt – Once your car hits the water, remove your seatbelt as quickly as possible—just don’t remove it before hitting the water. According to the Institute for Road Safety Research in the Netherlands, around half of the injuries in car submersion accidents are due to injury, not drowning. Give yourself the best chances of survival by always wearing a seatbelt, then unbuckling quickly once you hit the water.
Window – There are two potential options here:
Roll down your window. The back window is ideal, but side windows will work fine if the back window doesn’t or won’t go down. If there are multiple people in the car, have everyone roll down and escape via their own window if possible.
Break the window. If your window won’t roll down, you’ll need to break it. Have a center punch or window spike in the car for this purpose, and keep it easily and immediately accessible.
Children – If there are kids in the car not old enough to unbuckle themselves or who can’t swim, help them get out first by pushing them out the windows (they may not be strong enough to push against the flow of water without help). If there’s another adult or an older child, hand kids who can’t swim out the window to them.
Out – Get out of the car as fast as you can. Don’t reach for your phone or other valuables, and be ready to push against the current that’s rushing in through the window.
See the steps in action:
And check out Richard Hammond from Top Gear testing “get out fast” versus the outdated “wait for the pressure to equalize” course of action:
So, next time someone shares the “wait for the pressure to equalize” bit, go ahead and correct them using Dr. Geisbrecht’s tips and these videos. Knowing the info can save your own life. Sharing the info can save even more.
Here’s to knowing what to do, but hoping you never have to put it to use.
https://gma.yahoo.com/massachusetts-woman-rescued-car-plunges-river-153438485--abc-news-topstories.html. Accessed 12-16-14.
http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/kinrec/about/giesbrecht_faqs.html#sinking. Accessed 12-16-14.
http://www.swov.nl/rapport/Factsheets/UK/FS_Cars_in_water.pdf. Accessed 12/16/14.