What To Do If Your Car Crashes In Water

Posted on by Defensive Driving Team | in Defensive Driving Tips

I’m one of those “worst case scenario” people; in most things I do, I have a tendency to imagine everything that could possibly go wrong and then try to develop contingency plans for dealing with the situation. I’ve been this way since I was little. On family vacations, I would try to account for all potential hazards; as we drove over a number of long bridges on many trips, the threat of crashing through the rails and into the water was significant source of fear. For this reason, I’d like to present a brief overview of what to do should this ever happen to you. While the odds may be slim, maybe, like me, you’ll at least breathe a little easier when driving near lakes and rivers.
About 300 people die each year in the US due to cars crashing into water. In many cases, these deaths are preventable. As long as driver and passengers aren’t injured in the crash itself, it should be possible to escape from the car safely, provided one doesn’t panic.
First and foremost, don’t undo your seatbelt before you hit the water. Remember that, when you are travelling at speed, the water is more like a wall than a cushion. There will be a significant impact when your car hits the water, so be prepared.
However, do try to open your windows as soon as possible, as this is your best chance for a safe escape. Remember that the pressure of the water will make it almost impossible to open your doors. You will have a couple of minutes before the power window controls fail, so do your best to get the windows open. If you get a window partially open, you should be able to force it down manually by leveraging your weight against the top rim. At the same time, make sure to release automatic door locks, as you may have to open the doors later.
Once you get the windows open, undo your seatbelt and have your passengers do the same. Then exit through the windows. In some cars, the rear windows may not go down all the way. Passengers may have to exit through the front windows as well.
If you can’t get the windows down in time, don’t panic! You can still exit the car safely. First, try to break the windows, although this may be too difficult. If this doesn’t work, you will have to wait until the car has mostly filled with water, so this option is obviously much more nerve-wracking. Do your best to remain calm and to reassure your passengers.
You will need to allow the car to fill with water to approximately neck height, so that the pressure on the outside and inside of the doors equalizes. You should then be able to open the door. Air will be trapped near the car’s ceiling, so keep your head and the heads of your passengers up near the roof. You may need to lift small children up or place them on your shoulders.
Once the car has filled sufficiently, tell everyone to take a deep breath in. Open as many doors as necessary and swim to the surface, breathing out as you do so. If you exit from the same door as someone else, link arms with them so you can make sure you both get to the surface safely.
To read more on a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Car”, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!

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