Inclement Weather Conditions

Surviving a Submerging Vehicle

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It’s probably your worst nightmare. You’re driving over a bridge or by a canal when you lose control of your vehicle and plunge into the water. It sounds very frightening, but the fact is this rarely ever happens. In fact, less than one-half of one percent of all crashes involve fire or submersion! A lot of people believe that in this situation, if they are wearing a seat belt, they will not be able to get it undone and will be trapped in the vehicle. This is not true. Without a seat belt there is nothing to hold you in place, nothing to keep you from slamming your head into the steering wheel or dashboard. And imagine what would happen if you were knocked unconscious? You would be helpless. You wouldn’t have a chance to save yourself. Again, this is an extremely rare event. However, if it does happen to you, you can survive it. If you are wearing your seat belt, your chances of survival are much greater.

Now, let’s talk about how to survive what may be your worst nightmare. What happens if you misjudge a curve in the road or lose control of your vehicle and end up crashing into the water? How can you survive? The first thing to do is regain control. This means stay calm and help other passengers stay calm, too. Don’t panic. It will cost you a lot of time and energy, maybe even your life. Remember, you were wearing your seat belt so you have survived the worst part…the crash itself. The next thing to do is unbuckle your seat belt. This will allow you to move about freely. Then, evaluate your situation. You can think your way out of this. If the vehicle is floating or sinking slowly, you should be able to roll down your windows. Then, you can jump out of the vehicle and swim to safety.

In some instances, the vehicle will sink quickly and you won’t be about to open the doors or roll down the windows. Again, you must regain control and stay calm. Check on your passengers, and unbuckle your seat belt. Evaluate your situation. If you are sinking rapidly, you need to wait for the water pressure inside the vehicle to become equal to the water pressure outside the vehicle. It may sound crazy, but this means you need to let the vehicle sink further. Water rushing against a vehicle weighs thousands of pounds. So don’t fight it trying to open a door or roll down a window. You will waste valuable time and energy. Stay calm and let the vehicle fill with water. If you have time get rid of any heavy clothing, particularly shoes. These will bog you down as you swim for the surface. When the water is about half way up the window, about shoulder level, start rolling down the window. You may get a rush of water coming through the window. Try to stay in the air pocket at the top off the car. When the water stops rushing, take your last breath of air and swim up to safety, exhaling as you go.

But what if your vehicle has power windows, and the electric system shuts down when you hit the water? You will not be able to roll down your windows. You may want to keep a hammer in your vehicle. It’s a common household item, and almost everyone owns one. Keep it in your glove compartment or a side pouch of your car so it will remain secure and you will always know where to find it. A hammer probably won’t be effective against the windshield because the safety glass is very difficult to break. However, it may work on a side or a back window. Again, you need to regain control and stay calm. Check your passengers and unbuckle your seat belt. Evaluate your situation. If the vehicle is sinking quickly, remember, let it sink further. Find the air pocket at the top of the vehicle and stay in the air pocket until the vehicle is flooded. Get your hammer ready as you wait for the vehicle to fill with water. Then swinging the hammer at the bottom of the window and punch outward. The glass will shatter and you can push it out carefully with the hammer. Then take your last breath of air and swim up, exhaling as you go.

You have just learned how you can increase your chances of surviving if your vehicle is submerged in water. Remember, this is a rare occurrence, but if it does happen, you can survive. You need to always be thinking about what you would do if this happens to you. Remember to buckle up every time you get into a vehicle. You need to be conscious to keep yourself from drowning. You have the ability to survive. Make sure you are buckled up and stay in control.