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How to Get Out of a Car Underwater

How to Get Out of a Car Underwater

Escape from a Sinking Car

Being trapped in a sinking vehicle is a terrifying scenario that nobody wants to experience.

According to statistics, an estimated 400 people die each year in submerged vehicles across North America.

Because this could happen to anyone it means we should all be prepared and know exactly how to get out of a car underwater if that moment ever comes.

Steps to Get Out of a Sinking Car

1. Act Quickly but Stay Calm

The first and most important step is to remain calm. Panic will only cloud your judgment and waste precious time. As soon as your vehicle enters the water, you have a very short window of opportunity to escape, typically around 30 seconds to 2 minutes before it starts sinking rapidly.

During this critical time, you need to take immediate action by following the “SWOC” acronym:

  • S: Unbuckle your seatbelt and ensure all passengers do the same.
  • W: Roll down or break the windows to create an exit route.
  • O: Get out of the vehicle as quickly as possible.
  • C: If you have children, remove them from the car first, starting with the oldest.

2. Unbuckle Your Seatbelt

As soon as your vehicle hits the water, the first step is to unbuckle your seatbelt. This will allow you to move freely and escape the vehicle. If the buckle is stuck, try to cut the seatbelt using a dedicated seatbelt cutter or a sharp object.

3. Open or Break the Windows

Next, roll down the windows to create an exit route. Most power windows will continue to function for a short period after submersion. If the windows won’t open, use a window-breaking tool or a heavy object to shatter the side windows. Avoid trying to break the windshield, as it is much thicker and more difficult to break from the inside.

4. Exit the Vehicle

Once you have an exit route, get out of the vehicle as quickly as possible. If you have children, remove them first, starting with the oldest. Push them out through the window and then follow immediately.

If you have a small child, you can put them through the window first and then assist them to the surface.

Avoid Common Mistakes

While escaping a sinking vehicle, it’s essential to avoid common mistakes that could cost you precious time or even your life:

  • Don’t wait for the car to fill with water: Contrary to popular belief, you should not wait for the vehicle to fill with water before attempting to open the doors. The pressure will make it nearly impossible to open them, and you’ll likely drown before the pressure equalizes.
  • Don’t try to open the doors: Opening the doors will cause the vehicle to fill with water more rapidly, accelerating the sinking process and making it harder to escape.
  • Don’t call for help: While it may seem counterintuitive, you should not waste time calling emergency services. By the time they arrive, it will likely be too late. Focus all your efforts on self-rescue.

Be Prepared

While no one plans to end up in a sinking vehicle, being prepared could be the difference between death or survival.

Consider keeping a window-breaking tool and a seatbelt cutter in your vehicle, preferably within easy reach, like in the door panel.

Rehearse the escape steps from time to time so that in case of a real emergency, you react almost without having to think.

Car Safety Kits for Underwater Emergencies

Here are 5 of the best and most popular car safety kits I found that can help if your vehicle ends up in water:

  1. resqme Car Escape Tool: This compact keychain tool features a spring-loaded steel punch that can easily break tempered glass windows. It also has a razor-sharp blade to cut through jammed seatbelts. The resqme is designed to work even when submerged, making it ideal for underwater emergencies.
  2. HAUSBELL Escape Tool Set: This 5-in-1 kit includes a window breaker, seatbelt cutter, LED flashlight, razor blade, and keychain carabiner. The tools are made of durable stainless steel and aluminum alloy to withstand water pressure and forcefully break tempered glass.
  3. ViAir Portable Safety Kit: In addition to jumper cables and a tire inflator, this kit contains an emergency hammer with a spring-loaded tungsten carbide tip to shatter side windows. It’s corrosion-resistant and can function even when submerged.
  4. IPOW Escape Tool Set: This 6-piece set includes two window breakers, two seatbelt cutters, a survival whistle, and a storage pouch. The tools are made of hardened steel and designed to work underwater to help you escape a sinking vehicle.
  5. First Secure Car Emergency Kit: While not specifically for underwater use, this comprehensive 116-piece kit contains a life hammer with a spring-loaded tungsten steel tip to break tempered glass. It also includes a seatbelt cutter to help you exit a submerged vehicle.

Stats for Car Accidents and Deaths in Water

1Annual fatalities in North America due to vehicle submersionsAbout 400
2Annual average of traffic fatalities in the U.S. (2004-2007) with drowningAnnual average of 384Accidental drowning was one of the causes of death
3Percentage of vehicle drowning fatalities involving a rollover crash63%
4State leading in vehicle submersion deathsFloridaHighest number of fatalities in crashes involving submerged vehicles
5Number of drownings in vehicles in Palm Beach County, FL since 1997181
6Estimated number of vehicles submerged in the U.S. annually1,200 to 1,500Approx. 0.027% of all reported car crashes
7Percentage of fatal car crashes involving drowning (2004-2007)0.9%Drowning was a contributing
Stats for Car Accidents and Deaths in Water

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Picture of Steve Momot - Author

Steve Momot - Author

Steve, a seasoned expert in the automotive industry, formerly held a car dealer license in Florida. With extensive experience spanning across car trading and mechanical work, he founded Autohitch. His mission? To guide both buyers and sellers through the intricate maze of car purchasing, ensuring a seamless and informed experience. Outside of the automotive world, Steve has a passion for fishing and capturing the beauty of nature through photography.


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