Your Car is Sinking: Now What?

February 11, 2010  |  John T. Buchman

The tragedy of the 35W bridge and the floods in southeast Minnesota remind us all of unexpected dangers we face. Many of us have wondered, at one time or another, what would we do if our car ended up under water.
While it is relatively rare, experts indicate that 300 people die each year in this country when their cars end up under water. I have checked a number of sources and, while experts differ, the most consistent advice was as follows:
1. Don’t panic. I know this is easy to say when someone is sitting behind a desk coming up with advice and much harder when you are the one in the car that is sinking. However, it is absolutely essential to have a plan in mind and keep your head clear.
2. Roll down your windows as soon as you can. While many people are afraid to allow more water in, and open window is the easiest way to get out of a car. Most power windows will work until the car has been in the water for several seconds.
3. Do not try to open the doors right away. The surrounding water pressure is greater than the pressure inside the vehicle and you will only waste energy and air and increase a felling of being panicked by trying to open the door too soon. Every source I checked indicated to wait until the car is half full of water before trying to open the door. Scientists indicate that once the car is partially full of water the pressure will be equalized and it is easier to open the door.
4. Many experts suggested packing a tool in the car in a stable, secure location so it doesn’t move (perhaps the glove box) to break a window to create an escape path. Some specialized tools are available commercially. Sources identify “Life Hammer” TM and Res-Q-Me” TM Tool as examples. Many automobile parts stores will have similar tools. These can be used to break the window and/or cut you out of your seat belt. The experts also recommend not trying to break the windshield as it is generally made of thicker, harder glass, but rather breaking the side or rear window.
Keep in mind that experts also indicated that the vehicles usually sinks from the front end first due to the heavier weight of the engine and a vehicle may rotate or twist as it sinks. Some experts recommended keeping your hand on a door or steering wheel to keep your bearings in the vehicle as it sinks and perhaps rotates.
Hopefully you will never need to use this advice. However, here in Minnesota with ice fishing and other winter activities that often bring us out on to the frozen lakes, it probably good to spend a few moments thinking about what you would do in case you or your loved ones end up in deep water.
~ Jon T. Buchman
Personal Injury Attorney
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