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Vehicle Submersion

In 2007, approximately 370 lives were lost from vehicle submersion. Drivers should always avoid flood waters and locations where water is deep enough for tires to lose contact with the ground. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as little as six inches of water can cause a vehicle to lose control and stall, while two feet can carry away most vehicles, including sport utility vehicles (SUV's) and trucks.

It is much easier to avoid vehicle submersion than it is to survive. Drivers should:

  • Avoid travel during major storms.Vehicle Submerged In Ice Covered Lake

  • Never drive across a flooded roadway.

  • Adhere to road and traffic barricades.

  • Take extra care when driving at night on roads near water.

If your vehicle does enter deep water, follow these steps to improve your chance of survival:

  • Rule #1: Don't Panic - All experts agree that the first thing to do is stay calm, don't panic. Staying calm and helping any passengers to stay calm is the single most important thing you can do to survive a car sinking in water. Panic afterward, but not during.

  • Don't Bother Calling 911 - You need that time to get out. A common response in an emergency is to call 911. However, this may actually decrease the odds of survival.
  • Unbuckle Your Seat Belt - You were wearing your seat belt so you have survived the worst part, the crash itself - and you haven't panicked. Wearing your seat belt may give you a bruise on impact, but you're less likely to experience head trauma if you're safely strapped into your seat. Remaining conscious gives you a fighting chance if your car is filling with water. Unbuckle your seat belt; this allows freedom of movement.

  • Evaluate The Situation - If you're lucky, the vehicle is floating or sinking slowly, which should give you time to roll down the windows. Open a window that is against the direction of the water flow and keep one hand on the door or other reference point to avoid disorientation. Get out and get out quickly. Assist any children, letting them out. Then, get out as soon as possible and swim to safety.

  • If Sinking Quickly - If your car or truck leaves the roadway and plunges into a body of water, it can easily sink in 3 minutes (or significantly less, depending on the weight of the car, length of the drop, angle of impact, and integrity of the door seals.) Because of the speed in which submersion occurs, waiting for first responders to rescue you simply isn't an option. Instead, advance preparation is key if you hope to escape from your vehicle. You won't have time to roll down the windows. Again, stay calm, unbuckle your seat belt and check on passengers. If you are sinking rapidly, you need to wait for the water pressure inside the vehicle to become equal to the pressure outside. "This may sound crazy," but you need to let the vehicle sink further, wait until things settle. While you wait for pressure to equalize, make sure the door is unlocked, keep your shoes on and remove any heavy garments that will weigh you down and cause you to sink. Let the vehicle fill up with more water before attempting to open a window or door. That's because the water rushing against a vehicle weighs thousands of pounds. Trying to open a door or window with that kind of pressure wastes valuable time and energy. And if you were successful, the onrush of water most likely would push you away, even pin you under the dash. Safety-and-rescue experts state that the time to start rolling down the window is when the water is about halfway up the glass - about shoulder level. You may get a rush of water, but not enough to knock you away. Now is when you take a lung full of air and swim up to safety, exhaling as you go. There will be a small air pocket near the part of the vehicle that is highest in the water. Move to this location, take a deep breath and kick the window open.

  • Assess The Current Before Swimming To Safety - If you are unsure which direction to swim, let out some breath and follow the bubbles. And what about the passengers in the vehicle? Before you can save anyone else, you have to first save yourself. In this case, once you reach the surface, take a few seconds to get your bearings, and if you have the swimming skills, take a deep breath and go back down. Hopefully, you can help someone else escape.Women Using Spring Punch To Escape Submerging Vehicle

  • Power Of The Punch - The ability to escape by breaking a window with a key, high heel, steel
    toe and other common objects are myths. Windshields (and sometimes side and rear windows)
    are made from laminated glass that is difficult to break. Check your vehicle handbook to ensure that you have a tool designed to break the windows on your particular car. But what if your vehicle has power windows, and the electric system shuts down when you hit the water and the windows are disabled? One solution is to store one of those heavy emergency tools in the vehicle. Not very useful if it's in the trunk. Keep a small tool called a "spring punch" in the door pocket of your vehicle or stow one in the center console, not hidden in locked compartments. Available at most hardware stores or auto parts stores, usually in an emergency kit, this device has a pointed end like a punch, and it's forceful spring action will shatter automotive glass. Make sure to read the instruction manual for your auto glass breaker. The hammer should be aimed toward the corner of the window. A side or rear window is easier to break than the windshield. If you are a passenger in someone else's vehicle it is a good idea to carry a small piece of a ceramic insulator from a spark plug in your pocket or purse. A piece of ceramic held between finger and thumb and without a lot of force will also shatter auto glass. You'll find this or an entire insulator in the personal kits carried on the job by many fire, rescue and police personnel. It works. Personally you should have two tools. A ResQMe Mini Life Hammer on your key chain and the full-size Life Hammer in your car. Both tools will cut through a jammed seat belt and shatter a side or rear window.

  • Be Familiar With Interior Of Your Vehicle - Being familiar with the interior of your vehicle in the dark is helpful as visibility decreases in water and disorientation can easily occur if the vehicle flips.

Vehicle submersion happens quickly and often in a state of panic, so it is important for families to continually rehearse how to escape. While avoiding vehicle submersion is the safest route, knowing how to escape can mean the difference between life and death. Know exactly what steps you will take if your vehicle ends up in the water, always have the necessary tools in your car, and make certain you know how to use those tools. Think about how you will help passengers follow your plan. Practicing these measures, even just going over them in your mind, will help you remain calm, avoid panic, and remember your survival skills when you really need them.


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