How to Escape From a Sinking Vehicle

How to Escape From a Sinking Vehicle

April 2, 2024

Finding yourself in a sinking vehicle is a terrifying scenario. According to Gordon Giesbrecht, a professor at the University of Manitoba, who specializes in studying the impact of extreme environments on the human body, most victims emerge from such incidents unharmed, and could have survived if they were aware of or remembered the necessary actions to take.

Giesbrecht recommends remembering a straightforward acronym, SWOC:

S — Seat belts off

W — Windows open

O — Out immediately

C — Children first


Here's what you need to know if you ever find yourself in a sinking car:


1. Undo your seatbelt 

When your vehicle plunges into the water, you must act swiftly. Remove your seat belt immediately. You don't want it holding you back when the car is sinking. If there are kids, start with unbuckling the older ones so they can help the younger ones.


2. Open the windows

The best way to escape is by lowering down the window and getting out of the vehicle quickly. Time is crucial because as the car sinks, the water pressure may make it hard to open the windows, even if they're electric. 

Don't try to open the door because the rushing water could slam it shut again, possibly injuring you or trapping your clothes. Also, an open door will make the car fill with water faster.


If your windows get stuck, try to break them. An 'emergency hammer' is perfect for this. 


Keep escape tools in an easy-to-reach place, like on a keychain or attached to the dashboard. Aim to break the side windows because they're easier to break than the windshield, which is thicker. Escape tools might not work well on laminated windows. If you don't have anything to break the window, use your feet to kick near the front or along the edges, not in the middle.

Keep in mind that water will rush in fast once you open the windows, but you should still be able to push through it to get out of the vehicle.


3. Get out immediately

Experts advise getting out immediately, especially when the water level is still below the windows, as you typically have only about a minute. Once submerged further, the water pressure against the windows and doors increases, making it challenging to open them.

It's crucial not to waste time calling 911. By the time emergency services are contacted, and the situation is explained, precious moments for escape may have already passed.


One common misconception is waiting for the vehicle to fill with water to equalize the pressure, but that's not true. You need to escape right away. 


4. Get the children out

Make sure to get the kids out first. Unbuckle them right away and push them out through the window. It's easier for you to get them out first and then follow them. If there are more than one kid, start with the oldest. They might help the younger ones get out.

It might seem obvious but don't try to save anything except lives. Computers, phones, purses, etc. can be replaced, but you can't!


5. Stay calm

It's easier said than done, but panicking will only make things worse. Take deep breaths and stay focused. Time is crucial.

In conclusion, knowing what to do in a sinking vehicle can be a matter of life or death. Remember SWOC—Seat belts off, Windows open, Out immediately, Children first. Act quickly, prioritize safety over belongings, and stay calm. These steps could save your life in an emergency.

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