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How to Escape a Submerged Car

submerged car [1]

By Rebecca Maxwell

One of the most dangerous survival [2] situations to find yourself in is trapped inside a vehicle that has plunged into water. Before you suppose that it could never happen to you, consider this: automotive and insurance groups estimate that over 10,000 accidents occur every year in which a vehicle ends up in the water. Moreover, about 400 people drown each year trapped in their car or truck. Being struck inside a vehicle that is sinking to the depths of a river, lake, or ocean is a real threat.

When this happens, time is of the essence and it is critical to act quickly. A vehicle will usually spend a few moments floating on the surface in which you have the chance to escape. The key is to not take too long, however. There is only a 30-120 second window where getting out is possible.

Even though everything in you is screaming to get out, it is wise for you to stay calm. Panicking will not help you get out of the vehicle; in most cases, panicking makes things worse.

In order to escape from a submerged vehicle, experts suggest the following:

Do not open the door. It is extremely difficult to escape after opening a door and the vehicle will most likely sink immediately after doing so, cutting off any chance of survival.

Do not instantly reach for your cell phone to call 911. There will be plenty of time after escaping the vehicle to get help.

Undo your seatbelt. Unbuckling your seatbelt should be the first action you take. If your seatbelt is stuck, try cutting it off with whatever you have available.


Attend to children and passengers. Make sure that anyone riding with you is able to get their seatbelt off. Instruct them to try to get out through a window that they are able to access.

Roll down the windows. A window that you are able to roll down or break will be your ticket out. Most modern vehicles have windows that operate electronically. This means that they probably only work for a short amount of time.

If the window won’t budge, your only option at this point is to break the window using some sort of tool or your foot. Instead of trying to break the windshield, go for the side or rear windows and aim for spots along the hinges if using your foot. If you use a heavier object to try to break the window, aim for the center. Some tools that could work include a hammer, rock, screwdriver, and steering wheel lock. There are even various window breaking devices like an auto rescue tool available for purchase. It makes sense to store these in your vehicle for emergency situations.

Escaping from the window is fairly easy if the waterline has not reached it yet. However, if the waterline is above the window, be aware that you will be hit with a wall of water after the window breaks.

Get any children out first and then swim to the surface.