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Several months ago 2 cousins, just 19 years old, drowned when their car plunged into a pond.

The driver was traveling from her workplace at Amazon to a nursing home where the other cousin worked.

Medical examiners say both women died of accidental drowning and that no foul play is suspected. This emergency was tragic news and a devastating incident for the community – and it doesn’t happen to just adults.

Children and babies are frequently victims in water related accidents.

I was even more surprising to find out that over 10,000 auto accidents like this happen each year.

Some survive, others don’t.

And it made me think, “would I know what to do in a situation like this?”

“How would I save children or other passengers in a drowning car?”

sinking car escape

We all like to think that we’d be able to escape a car crash in water.

But being in the moment, inside a car sinking in water is far more disorienting than you may think.

It happens fast.

And you may even find yourself upside down and in the dark – a panic inducing moment even without passengers.

With a short window of opportunity.

So, how long does it take for a car to sink?

Here’s what happens when a car is submerged in water.

On average, your window of opportunity for a car in water will be between 30-320 seconds – it’s fast, and the water doesn’t need to be deep to cause problems.

Additionally, a recent study revealed that door panels get jammed after 120 seconds.

Do power windows work underwater?

You’ll find that you have a short window of opportunity before you lose all electrical systems with a vehicle in water.

As a driver, your knowledge of what to do in a sinking car will enable you to rescue your family and other passengers while waiting for 911 to dispatch ambulances, increasing your chance of survival.

This is why it’s important to know exactly what to do when a car goes in water; before you ever find yourself in a situation like this and have the resources to get out.

Do you have a plan on how to get out of a drowning car? Here’s some expert “escape the car” help and advice.

How to get out of a sinking car: 4 Simple Steps

First of all, make sure you have a car emergency safety kit. You can find our Ultimate Car Emergency Safety Kit here.

Next, make sure to memorize the following steps:

  • Seatbelts
  • Windows
  • Children Out
  • You Out

There are two different scenarios when it comes to getting out of a car sinking in water.

One of them is while the windows are still above water, the other is while you are submerged.

How to get out of a car underwater

Can you open a car door underwater?

Once a car starts sinking, water exerts pressure in all directions.

Imagine trying to open your car door but there are 10 quarterbacks pushing against it from the outside.

No amount of kicking will be able to rescue you because of pressure increasing each second.

What to do if your car is submerged in water

1. Secure your phone

Whiplash injuries might occur when a car veers off a road or bridge and lands in a large mass of water.

Drivers and passengers can also sustain wrist fractures as they continue to hold onto the nearest object for safety.

Your phone enables you to get professional medical attention as soon as possible.

Switch off your phone so it doesn’t get broken, and if possible, remove the battery quickly. Doing this prevents short-circuiting as you swim towards dry land.

Alternatively, you can switch if off and put it in the nearest plastic bag you can find.

2. Take a deep breathe

Sometimes, things aren’t as bad as they appear. If the accident happens while you’re sober, your mind can shift attention from the loud splashing.

It’s during this moment that you can stop and recall where you’ve placed your car window breaker.

Panicking in cars works against you because it makes it impossible to cut the seatbelt.

It’s also hard to remember about water pressure when your mind is clouded with fear.

That’s why taking a deep breathe helps you to figure out the best course of action.

3. Be ready to part with your belongings

It seems rational to scoop up all your belongings when water flows into your car. Especially when they’re high-end items like designer bags or MacBook laptops.

However, you might only have less than a minute to rescue yourself, and holding on to your belongings will prevent you from using your hands to swim.

Your phone is what you need the most because an accident might take place at night or in secluded areas.

In such situations, it might take a while before other people search and come to your rescue.

4. Unbuckle your seatbelt fast

Once your car starts sinking, it becomes a hazard to your life.

So, you need to get out urgently by unbuckling your seatbelt.

But, you need to follow the second step in this list, which is taking a deep breathe.

If your seatbelts seem jammed, you’ll need a sharp knife to cut through.

That’s why you need a rescue tool in your glove compartment.

Also, don’t wait for water to get inside your vehicle because wet seatbelts are harder to cut.

5. Roll down your windows

Now that you know how water exerts pressure on submerged doors, you need another escape route.

Car windows are large enough for adults to swim through.

But, do you really have to break the glass in order to swim to safety?

No one wants to deal with cuts and stitches when they’re already trapped in a life or death situation.

When your car hits the water, secure your escape routes by rolling down your window – especially if they are electric.

Doing this enables you to swim to safety without bleeding on the way out.

However, an open window also lets in water at a high rate.

6. Use a tool to break a car window underwater

Let’s assume you don’t have time to roll down the windows because your vehicle rolled over several times and landed inside water.

Is it possible to break the car window underwater?

Yes, it is but you have to do it before any water gets in.

All you need is a car rescue tool to clear your exit. They’re usually the size of a key holder and contain a sharp razor blade to cut through seatbelts.

A spring-loaded tool is ideal because you only have to press it against the corner of your car window to shatter the glass.

3 tips on how to escape a car submerged in water

Top Gear Sinking Car

1. Equip each passenger with a spring-loaded rescue tool

A spring-loaded rescue tool costs anywhere from $30-$50. It’s really affordable and worth it – even movie tickets also fall within the same price range.

Plus, it’s easy to carry because you can just attach it to your key chain or attach it to the headrest for quick access.

Additionally, children aged over 7 years can use it easily because you don’t need to press the tool against the window forcefully.

When each passenger (including kids) has a tool within easy access, all passengers have the best chance of survival without complicated injuries.

2. Avoid storing heavy objects near headrests

Sometimes we tend to place heavy objects on the space between the backseat headrests and windshield.

Doing this puts both you and your passengers at great risk.

When fast-moving cars lose control and swerves into water, you’ll notice that the car sinks in nose first.

Why is this dangerous?

Because the impact hurls everything to the front.

Any bottles, electronics, and other items pose a danger to both you and your passengers because they’re moving at a high speed.

So, to avoid accidentally hurting yourself or your passengers in an emergency, keep heavy items in the trunk.

3. Open the sunroof fast

When you’re driving in cold weather, your windows will be shut to insulate yourself.

So, what happens when you lose control and your car starts sinking?

How do you get out of a car underwater?

Well, the best solution is rolling down the windows or using a rescue tool.

However, it’s possible that your windows might be faulty and there’s no rescue tool around.

Does this mean that all hope is lost?

Certainly not.

You can act fast by opening the sunroof while cutting the seatbelt.

Escaping through the sunroof is easier for passengers because the car’s tilted position forces objects towards the roof.

How to escape a sinking car with children

1. Don’t panic

Children are highly in tune with your body language.

Kids can tell when things are going wrong by just looking at your face and listening to the tone in your voice.

Their ability to cooperate with your rescue efforts depends on your state of mind as the car starts sinking.

Remember to take deep breathes as you unbuckle your safety belt and roll down the windows.

Don’t shout back at the children when they scream in panic because it will only make things worse.

2. Start with the oldest to the youngest

Earlier on, we saw that your window of opportunity closes after two minutes.

So, in order for you to increase your chances of survival, the best strategy is to start with more able-bodied passengers.

Why is this important?

Because they can help you rescue other passengers by moving them out or breaking nearby windows.

It’s impossible to swim to the surface and then back to the wrecked car to rescue other passengers.

In most cases, the survivor is still traumatized and this hinders their ability to make rational decisions.

Plus, it’s hard to break car windows from outside when you don’t have a spring-loaded rescue tool.

3. Get a booster seat with quick release technology

In a drowning car, you might need to rescue more than one child.

Sometimes, it gets challenging when you’re driving with a toddler or child with a physical impairment because they’re relying on you to swim them to safety.

In such a situation, trying to cut through a kids seatbelt can be tricky due to the numerous straps attached (or something getting broken).

However, you can scoop up your child and swim away by just pressing a button on the booster seat thanks to quick release technology.

How to rescue a drowning person without floatation device

So far, we’ve looked at how to get out of a sinking vehicle and rescue passengers safely.

But, what happens when some of your passengers can’t swim?

In case one of your passengers starts drowning here’s what to do

1. Offer reassurance

Deep waters are terrifying because we’re used to stepping and walking on solid ground.

The drowning victim feels overwhelmed with fear and this makes them sink.

Your job is to help them focus their attention on staying afloat.

As you swim towards the victim, encourage them with inspiring words.

Tell them that they’re doing a great job and you’ll get them to safety fast.

Calming down your passengers makes them more cooperative towards your instructions.

2. Use the chin grab

When swimming towards your passenger, you’ll notice that he or she wants to dive and cling on to you for safety.

If they actually get a hold of you, it makes the situation worse because you can’t use your limbs to swim back to safety.

What’s the best approach?

Dive underwater for the sake of your drowning passenger.

Swim towards him or her and then turn towards their back.

Then, grab their hips and slide your least dominant hand to their chin.

For instance, a right-handed person will use their left hand to hold their victim’s chin up.

This position enables you to swim to safety without the passenger pulling your limbs.

The best way to get to safety is by using either the back or sidestroke.

3. Talk to them

The best rescue situation is where everyone comes out unscathed and still conscious.

As you swim to dry land, keep on motivating your passenger.

This engagement prevents their brain from switching off, enabling them to keep breathing throughout.

How to give CPR to a drowning person

Here are some quick easy steps to help you revive a friend, passenger, or relative as you await an ambulance.

1. Open their mouth to check for obstructions

Water can flood a drowning victim’s mouth as they gasp for air repeatedly.

This blocks their airway and puts them in a life-threatening situation.

How do you ensure that their airway is clear?

First, lay down your passenger on solid ground far from the water.

Next, place your right hand on their forehead then use your left hand to tilt their chin gently.

Open their mouth by pulling down their chin.

If your phone is still working, use the flashlight to check for any obstructions in the throat.

2. Clean any fluids on the victim’s mouth

Drowning can induce vomiting because the victim is choking with water.

Sometimes, the impact upon hitting an obstacle or water can cause cuts or gashes to the mouth.

As a rescuer, your health always remains the top priority and that’s why you can’t proceed to giving rescue breathes.

Nowadays, you can get pocketsize CPR masks ideal for such situations.

If you lost it while swimming to safety, just use your handkerchief or t-shirt to wipe your passenger’s mouth clean.

3. Check for a pulse

Assessing the pulse rate enables you to determine whether you need to give chest compressions.

How do you check for one?

Place your index and middle fingers at the center of your passenger’s neck then slide them sideways to the muscle until you feel a small depression.

If you can’t detect a pulse, prepare to give chest compressions.

4. Start with rescue breaths

The aim of giving rescue breathes is to stimulate your victim’s lungs.

Doing this also ensures that the brain and heart still receive enough oxygen.

Start by tilting your victim’s head upwards then open their mouth gently to clear their airway.

Next, place your mouth directly on top of theirs then blow deeply.

Watch if his or her chest is rising before giving the next rescue breath.

Rescue breathes are effective in reviving victims who passed out just moments before getting rescued to dry land.

5. Give 30 chest compressions

Before proceeding to this step, locate the center of your victim’s chest.

Place your thumb at the victim’s armpit then follow a straight line towards the center, which is halfway below the sternum.

Next, place the heel of your right hand then place your left hand on top while interlocking your fingers.

Before pumping, make sure your shoulders are straight.

Proceed to the compressions at a rate of 100 per minute.

It’s advisable to take off any jewelry or ties hanging on your victim’s neck.

Mythbusters underwater car survival tests

Let’s look at some of the widely spread, but wrong ways of how to get out of a drowning car.

Mythbusters fall into water

1. Myth: wait for the pressure to equalize

Some people believe that the best way to escape a submerged car is waiting for the water to fill up your car to chest level.

The inflowing water equalizes air pressure enabling you to open doors easily.

On surface level, it seems rational because it only takes a minute for water to fill up a car.

But, is it really a wise move?

As water fills up, it’s also carrying soil and objects of varying sizes.

The visibility inside deteriorates rapidly and this puts you at risk especially when you’re trying to find your car rescue tool.

Secondly, the incoming water adds weight and this can force your car to flip upside down.

It’s hard to rescue passengers when you’re stuck in this position.

2. Myth: kick out the windshield

Every major action movie star from Sylvester Stallone to Jason Statham have defiantly kicked out windshields in scenes involving submerged vehicles.

They make it look so easy that you immediately believe it’s a method that works in real life.

Unfortunately, it’s all camera tricks.

A windshield consists of two layers of thick glass and in between them is a layer of highly elastic plastic adhesive.

This design makes it able to withstand higher impacts from falling objects compared to your side windows.

Also, the steering wheel’s position makes it hard to thrust your legs with the required force.

3. Myth: break the side windows using your elbows

You’ve also seen this in a couple of movies. All you need to do is aim then strike the glass hard.

How effective is this method?

On a scale of one to ten, elbow strikes score a dismal three.

Why?

Because you’ll need to strike the window repeatedly to get a breakthrough.

Yet, you only have less than two minutes to get out of the sinking wreck.

If you somehow manage to break your window, you’ll be in a lot of pain and bleeding profusely due to the cuts sustained.

Finally… Rescuing yourself from a sinking car isn’t difficult as long as you retain mental composure.

It helps you to locate the right tools for the job as well as figuring out the best rescue plan for your passengers.

What’s the best way to prepare for these incidents?

Ensure that your car tires are in excellent condition when driving in snow or rainy weather, especially near rivers and lakes.

Finally, make sure there are a couple of rescue tools in your glove compartment in case your car gets submerged in water

More helpful reading:

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