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Last time, we talked about how to survive a car crash during disasters and crises and I showed you a few basic rules you need to follow when you bug out with your family. But when it comes to emergencies, you need to keep in mind that our plans, no matter how well organized and flexible, might fall through when least expected. That’s why it’s best to be prepared for nearly anything that could happen, including worst-case-scenarios that you might deem as impossible right now.
One of these worst-case-scenarios is being in a car that’s sinking in deep water. This is literally one of my worst nightmares that makes me wake up soaked in cold sweat. So, naturally, I looked up as much information as possible to get ready in the eventuality that, one day, some lunatic will force me to steer right to avoid a violent car crash… and I’ll end up in a lake or a river, trapped in my own car.
If it sounds paranoid, remember that it’s better to be safe than sorry. I think this is the one piece of advice you’d get from the ones who managed to escape a sinking car and got to keep living their lives together with their loved ones. So take a few minutes to read this article, it might save your life one day:
First of all, here’s what you should NEVER do if you’re trapped in a sinking car:
• Do not let panic take over
Panic is a natural reaction and it would be absurd to assume you can have complete control over it. After all, you’re in a car that’s about to drag you to the bottom of a lake or river. It’s absolutely normal to freak out. And that’s exactly what you need to keep in mind: that freaking out is normal, as long as you don’t let it take over your judgment.
Let the panic manifest, but don’t think about it. Think of your next moves, think of your escape plan. This will help you channel the adrenaline towards your survival instinct, not towards the panic.
• Don’t call 911
I know most survival manuals advise you to call 911 when confronted with an emergency situation, but this is not one of those cases. When you’re in a sinking car, you should spend every single second trying to get out. The faster, the better. Wasting time calling 911 will just slash your chances of survival.
• Don’t try to open the door
That will take too much effort and time. Try opening the window, instead. And if it doesn’t work, break it.
• Don’t sit and wait
There’s no time for sitting around and making a plan when you’re sinking. From the moment your car starts heading towards the water, you need to start working on your escape. Every second count, so don’t waste any waiting for a hero to come rescue you.
• Don’t leave kids behind
If there are kids with you in the car, once you open the windows, push them outside first. Start with the oldest and take the youngest kid with you when you make your way out the window. Don’t get out first thinking you’ll pull them out once you’re outside. You may never know what could happen and your kids will stay stuck inside.
Ok, now that you know the Big No-No’s, it’s time to show you the basic rules of escaping a sinking car.
#1: Minimize damage
As I showed you in the article about car crashes, the way you position your body before the impact is your damage measurement tool. If the crash catches you off guard, you’re likely to get severely hurt and not be able to make your way out of the car.
So here’s a reminder of how you need to position your body for minimizing injuries:
– Your headrest must be right above your ears. Adjust it to the right position if it’s lower, otherwise, you may break your neck during the impact.
– You must be at least six inches away from the wheel. Don’t lean down over it, because your chest will be vulnerable to serious injuries caused either by the wheel or by airbags.
– Sit straight. If your muscles are contracted and your spine is straight, your body will be naturally protected against injuries. Remember that it’s better to get sore muscles than broken ribs and punctured lungs.
– Keep your wrists straight, not bent. This will help you prevent wrist injuries such as carpal tunnel, which is quite painful and would prevent you from moving your arms and hands right. And that’s the last thing you want when your life is on the line.
– Hold the wheel to the nine o’clock and three o’clock position. If you hold your hands to the ten o’clock and two o’clock position, the airbags might throw your arms in your face. Plus, this position will force you to keep your muscles contracted and, thus, protect your bones better.
#2: Undo seat belts
According to Professor Dr. Gordon Geisbrecht — who specializes in cold water immersion — once the car has crashed in water, the first thing you need to do is undo your seat belt and then unbuckle the kids. Start with the oldest child, who can then help others.
You may have heard the exact opposite thing: that you should leave your seat belt on, so you can control your moves better and not get pushed away from the window when the water starts rushing in.
However, a stuck seat belt will prevent you from making a quick escape and, as I said before, every second matter. If you get pushed away from the window, the adrenaline will force you to make an extra effort to get back on the track. But if you’re dealing with a seat belt that you can’t get to open, your chances of survival plummet close to zero.
#3: Open the window as soon as you hit the water
Once the car is underwater, the electrical system dies. That’s why you need to be fast and open the window while it’s still working. You’ll have just a few seconds at your disposal, so use them wisely.
If the window doesn’t open, don’t go for the door. Break the window with whatever you’ve got on hand. I suggest keeping a “center punch” or a small hammer in the glove compartment. If not, use your foot. But be fast, don’t waste time trying to break the window using the same method over and over again. If one doesn’t work, try something else.
If you’re trying to break the window with an object, aim for the center. If you’ve got no sturdy objects around to break the window with and you’re using your foot, follow these rules, try to kick near the front of the window or along the hinges. However, if you’re wearing high heels, you should aim the center of the window.
But whatever you do, do not try to break the windshield. You’ll only waste your energy. Go for the side and rear windows if you want to save yourself and your family.
#4: Make your way out the window
As I said before, the first thing you need to do is push the kids out, as soon as you’ve broken the window. It doesn’t matter if they get scratched or cut while you push them through the broken window. That kind of injuries are easily treated.
Once they’re outside, take a last deep breath (if the car isn’t completely submerged, of course) and use every bit of strength you’ve got to push yourself against the water flow and out the window.
When you’re out of your car, help your kids swim to the surface and immediately look for something that floats that they can grab on.
It’s very difficult to escape a sinking car. You need to be very fast and know exactly what to do, so you don’t waste any second. But some managed to do it, so I’m confident that so can you, especially since now you know the most common mistakes you need to avoid and the basic rules that will help you and your family survive.
P.S. – a very important tip from Ronald Parks (thanks!) in the comments: If the car goes to the bottom and you have, even one or two feet of water over the top of the car, the air in the car will become pressurized. You can still breathe but if you take a big breath and go to the surface, the air in your lungs will expand and can burst the little air exchange sacks in your lungs. This over-expansion of the lungs can cause air embolism which will send small air bubble up to the brain causing what is essentially a stroke and almost immediate unconsciousness. This often fatal scenario can be easily prevented, however, by keeping the airway open during ascent. The easiest and most natural way to do this is to make a low pitched low volume humming like noise while you ascend. You may feel like you are running out of air on the way up but you won’t. Remember, the air in your lungs is expanding so keep trying to make that hum. Your lungs cannot over-expand if the airway is open and your airway cant be closed if you are making a sound. I hope you never need this info. If you’re a Scuba diver, (I am an instructor) you should already know what I have stated above (although you might not have thought of how it applies to a submerged car escape). I hope none of you ever need this tip but, if you do, following it might well save your life. After this, you may see reports of a car that entered the water where the driver and/or passenger escapes the vehicle only to slip below the water again and drown. Most often drowning is listed as the cause of death but it is unconsciousness due to air embolism that causes the drowning.
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