Home Tips & Tricks Sinking Car – Here’s What You Need To Do

Sinking Car – Here’s What You Need To Do


Sinking Car – Here’s What You Need To Do – You’re driving home one night, your mind idling as you cruise along the highway. You can’t help but think of the weird news reports you’ve been seeing lately- apparently people have been spotting a strange creature around town. It’s being described as a tall, lanky being with huge, red eyes, and most shocking of all, it apparently flies!

You vaguely recall hearing about something similar way back in the 60s, in a town called. . . Point Decent? Point Comfortable? Something like that. And the creature, what was it called? Birdman? Batman? Butterflyman? You honestly can’t remember. Then you find yourself stopped in traffic behind a few other cars on a long, worn out bridge.

There’s some kind of traffic jam up ahead but you can’t see it. As you sit in your car you suddenly remember: the town was called Point Pleasant, and the creature was the Mothman. The legendary predictor of automobile doom! With a chill running up your spine, it suddenly happens- the aging bridge gives way with a creak and a groan and your car is suddenly plummeting to the icy cold river below!

Guess you should’ve paid more attention to urban legends, but now you’ve got bigger fish to fry, and in a few seconds that’s going to be a literal statement. So your town has been haunted by a mythical creature warning of impending doom and now you’re stuck in a rapidly sinking car because local authorities failed to heed the dire warnings.

How are you going to survive? Well first you’ll be relieved to hear that Mothman was almost certainly misidentified barn owls and overactive imaginations. You might be less relieved to hear that infrastructure in America is so poorly maintained that just over 56,000 bridges all across the nation are structurally deficient.

Sinking Car
PHOTO: Dr Giesbrecht simulates submerged vehicle rescues as part of his research in Canada. (Supplied: Dr Gordon Giesbrecht)

While that doesn’t mean they are in danger of immediate collapse, some are in incredibly poor repair and in dire need of maintenance. Unfortunately budget priorities have historically gone elsewhere, though the good news is that the number of structurally deficient bridges has been steadily, and slowly shrinking for the past few years.

What if today is your unlucky day though, and you find yourself on one of those structurally deficient bridges who decided that you are the straw that broke the camel’s back, more literally than figuratively in this case. What do you do if trapped in a sinking car? Given the fact that 400 people a year die from drowning in sinking vehicles, the threat is not particularly great, but you should always be prepared.

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The first thing you might be tempted to do when your vehicle crashes into the water is to immediately call 911. It makes good sense, as you’ve likely been trained your whole life to immediately call emergency services in case of disaster. You also won’t be in very immediate danger because cars can actually take around 30 seconds to a minute to start fully submerging, thanks to all of the trapped air across the vehicle keeping the car afloat.

Yet that’s time you should not be spending calling 911, because when your car is sinking you’ve got precious little time to waste. Gordon Geisbrecht from the University of Manitoba trains law enforcement officers and others on escaping from vehicles under water, and he said about calling 911, “If you touch your cell phone you’re probably going to die”.

No, that’s not because your cell phone will literally kill you, but because you’ll be wasting precious time you could be using to escape. Better to simply wait until you’ve safely left your vehicle before calling 911- after all, what use will 911 be to you when you’ve already been drowning for ten minutes before anyone shows up?

In this case, it’s you on your own, mano-a-mano with the water trying to kill you. The second thing you should do is, and we checked carefully on various survival websites,but unbuckle yourself from your seat belt. Listen, we know this is common sense, but every single website we searched literally listed this as a step, so who are we to argue?

Plus our writer who had undergone ‘dunking’ survival training, or how to escape from a sinking helicopter, also attests to the fact that even in survival training unbuckling your seat belt was a listed step. We guess that in the heat of the moment you might panic, and so having a handy-dandy survival checklist can be a lifesaver.

The next step is to not do the exact thing you’re probably thinking about doing- opening the door. You might think that we don’t want you to open the door so that water doesn’t rush in and sink your car faster, but we actually tell you not to open the door because, well,you won’t be able to. You’re going to have an incredible amount of water pressure pushing in on the door against you, and we don’t care how many Spartan challenges you’ve competed in, you are not stronger than water.

No human in the world is stronger than thousands of gallons of water all pressing against the door of a car, so don’t bother. Instead you want to roll your window down. Because the water is pushing in, against the inside of the car, rolling a window down can be done with relative ease while the water level is low- you’re not fighting against the water pressure.

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Be aware though, that you’ll have up to a minute before the rising water reaches the top of the door, at which point the water pressure will push the window against the door frame so hard that it’ll basically become impossible to roll down. Of course if you have a modern car with electric windows, then the circuits will probably fry the moment you hit the water, so you’re going to have to think about alternatives at this point.

You can purchase many specialized tools to help you break car windows in an emergency,such as tools with sharpened steel tips that can shatter glass with a well-placed blow,or spring-loaded tools that do much the same thing. Whatever you use, you’ll want to make sure it’s within easy reach, because you’re burning precious seconds if you’re having to dig through the glove box to find your rescue tool.

If you have no tool, then you can try kicking the window out yourself. Modern car windows are pretty tough stuff, but with a few well placed kicks you may be able to kick it out of its frame. Whatever you end up doing, just make sure you do it fast, because as soon as you are fully submerged none of your rescue tools, or kicking, are going to work to knock that window out of the frame.

Next, evacuate children out of the car first. Being smaller and weaker, they are going to have a harder time getting past the rushing water, so you may have to shove them out the window. Infants are going to have to be carried out in your arms. Everyone should be going out of their own window if at all possible, but if not you may have to shove children through your window or whichever window was opened up.

At this point you’ll want to swim for shore. As you make your way out of the window though try and be mindful of any baggy clothing you may be wearing, as it could get snagged on various objects. It might even be better to quickly remove a bulky jacket or other clothing and make sure you don’t get hooked and dragged down to Davy Jones’ Locker.

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If however you have been unable to open a window before your car started fully submerging,then you still have a chance at survival. First, you’re going to want to wait until the water fully fills the inside of your car. This will equalize the pressure and allow you to easily open your door and escape that way.

Now this is going to mean that you have to calm yourself down and control your breathing as the car fills with water, admittedly something that likely won’t be easy to do in such a terrifying situation. It’s vital you stay calm though, as most people could easily make the short swim from a sinking car to the surface, but due to panic and stress, often drown before even getting clear of their vehicle.

You’ll want to remain calm as the water rises, taking gradually deeper and deeper breaths as the water level builds. Exhale fully and fill your lungs up completely for your final breath- the one good thing working in your favor is that the rising water will compress what air is left in the vehicle,giving you more oxygen in your final breath than normal.

If you can keep your cool and wait the final few seconds for pressure to equalize, you’ll be able to simply pop the door open and make a swim for it. Our writer who underwent dunking survival training says that even at the best of times,exiting a sinking helicopter, or vehicle in this case, can still be terrifying and confusing.

You might in fact be so confused in your panic that you can’t tell which way is up, which is why you want to take a moment and if you have any visibility at all, simply look for bubbles. Then, it’s as simple as following the bubbles up. People will likely have noticed that your car decided to go on a diving trip, so the good news is that your primary job is to get clear of the car.

At that point even if you pass out from asphyxiation, you can likely still be rescued and resuscitated in time to save your life. If you remain trapped in your vehicle though it can take hours to get rescue divers on scene, and unless you’ve recently grown a pair of gills, that means you won’t be surviving your impromptu road trip to the bottom of a river.

Have you ever had to make your way out of a sinking vehicle? What would you do if you were in this scenario? Let us know in the comments.