How to Escape a Sinking Car

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 10, 2009 · 43 comments

in Cars, Manly Skills, Survival

Sinking car

Editor’s note: This post has been revised since its original publication to reflect the best and most current research.

Last week, 3 college softball players in North Dakota drowned when the jeep in which they were riding became submerged in a pond merely 12 feet deep. While their deaths are still being investigated, authorities say that foul play was not a factor;  it was simply an unfortunate and tragic accident. What surprised me after reading the report is how frequently such accidents occur. According to some studies, over 10,000 water immersion auto accidents happen each year. Some people involved in these accidents survive; some do not. If you careened off the road and into a lake, would you know what to do?

While we all feel confident that we’d be able to escape, the reality of being inside a sinking car is far scarier than can be imagined. The car fills up with water much faster than you’d think, you may be upside down, it’s dark, you’re disoriented, and panic quickly takes over. You have to know exactly what to do before splash down. So memorize the following tips.

How to Escape from a Sinking Car

Sinking car

Stay as calm as possible. When you have gallons of water filling your car, it’s hard not to panic. But when the difference between life and death comes down to a matter of minutes, having a clear head is essential to your survival. Panic is often the reason people drown; they lose the ability to think straight and don’t know what to do. The women in the North Dakota accident called their friends on their cellphones! But panic=death. Hyperventilating and wasting your energy on ineffective actions closes off the easiest options of escape, wastes precious oxygen and shortens the amount of time you’ll be able to hold your breath when making an escape. Just concentrate on what you need to do.

Your best chance of escape is the first 30-120 seconds. In research done on the subject, it was found that in the vast majority of situations a vehicle will actually float for 30-120 seconds before sinking. This is your best chance at escape. Stay calm, but also act quickly. If you have your wits about you, 30 seconds is plenty of time to escape, even with passengers.

Do not wait for the pressure to equalize! When your car starts really sinking, the differential between the pressure outside the car and inside the car makes opening the door impossible. So people are commonly told to wait until the car fills completely with water in order for the pressure inside and outside of it to equalize, at which point you will supposedly be able to open the door. But two shows, Mythbusters and Top Gear have tested this theory and found it wanting. The inside/outside pressure will eventually equalize, but it won’t happen just as soon as the car fills up with water. It takes a bit longer, so long that you’ll likely drown before it happens. It is possible if you are patient, calm, and conserve your oxygen, but don’t count on it.

Watch Top Gear test out this theory:

The door is an option, but not your best option. There are still some experts that say your best chance of escape is through the door right as you hit the water. In our research, however, this theory is losing steam. Sure, you have the ability to escape through a door if it’s done immediately, but there are a few serious downfalls. One, if you try and can’t do it, you’ll have exhausted much of your energy. Then you’ll be panicked, which is bad. Two, it requires a tremendous amount of strength to open a door, even in just a foot of water. You may be able to escape that way, but can your wife and kids? Third, if you escape through the door, the car will pretty much immediately sink, rendering it impossible for passengers to escape. If you’re a strong man, you can go this route, but only as a backup plan and if you’re the only passenger in the vehicle.

Roll down or break a window. Simply put, the window is your best chance for escape. If the waterline has not risen past the windows, try rolling down the window first. Contrary to popular belief, Mythbusters found that automatic windows don’t immediately short circuit underwater. But as the car sinks, the pressure of the water will prevent you from rolling them down. This is even the case with manual windows. Even if you’ve got Popeye-sized biceps, you won’t be be able to overcome the pressure and roll down the windows. You’ll probably just break the crank.

So if rolling down the window doesn’t work, you’ll need to break the side window to escape. This is actually harder than you might think as the windows are made of strong, tempered glass.  While the windshield is easier to shatter, they’re designed to be unbreakable and are laminated with a plastic sheet that could keep you trapped in the car. If you’ve been doing your push-ups and pull-ups, you might be able to break the side window with your elbow or fist. Aim for the center of the window. But this is extremely difficult. The water significantly slows down the force of your movements. The Mythbusters were unable to break it with a kick from a steel-toed boot. Even if you are able to punch it through, your risk cutting up your hands on the broken glass. Remember the scene at the beginning of Karate Kid II when Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese punched through some car windows? Yeah, your hands could look like that. Wrapping your hand in something can help reduce the chance of slicing them up.

Your best option is to have some sort of device in your car at all times that allows you to easily break your windows in case of an emergency. The LifeHammer or the T3 Tactical Triage and Auto Rescue Tool are two tools you might want to consider keeping in your car. The former has a hardened steel tip while the latter has a spring loaded steel tip window punch, which allows you to break strongly tempered windows with the push of a button. They also have cutting devices that will cut through a seat belt if you find that you can’t unbuckle yourself. Keep them in a place that will be immediately accessible in case of an accident; you don’t want to be rummaging through your glove compartment as your car fills with water.

Escape through the window. If the waterline is still below the car window, escaping from the window will be pretty quick easy. If the waterline is past the window, keep in mind that as soon as you break the window, you’ll be hit with a flood of water. But you should still be able to swim out. Watch Adam from Mythbusters “break” the window and make his escape:

Swim to safety. Push off the car and swim to the surface. If you’re disoriented and don’t know which way is up, look for bubbles and follow the direction they’re going.

What to Do with Passengers

First, don’t open the door to make your escape. While you might be able to get out, the car will quickly fill with water and sink rapidly, possibly trapping your passengers in a watery grave. Instead, roll down or break the window.

Escaping from a sinking car is hard enough by yourself. But what if you have passengers? The first goal is to keep them calm. Take control of the situation by explaining exactly what you’re about to do. When people see there’s a plan, they’ll usually calm down. Make sure they can get out of their seatbelts. If the buckles don’t work, they’ll need a cutting tool. A child can escape from the rear window, but know that they are smaller than front windows. If it’s a small child, pull them up to the front and get them out of your window and follow after.

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alan Robertson November 10, 2009 at 5:46 pm

Where was this article when I was 17? My first car “wreck” involved me driving my mother’s car down a boat ramp and in the the Tennessee River. Talk about a scary situation!

Amazingly enough we managed to escape the vehicle unscathed! The car didn’t sink terribly fast and we were about to open the doors and swim back to shore. My passenger got out as well after struggling with the current pushing the door shut on his leg.

This article brings back strangely fond memories.

2 William November 10, 2009 at 6:03 pm

About punching the windows: I hear windows aren’t made purely of glass, but some kind of mix between plastic and glass, that makes it not sharp when it’s broken. It’s specifically to avoid cutting in case of accidents and such.

You’d have to confirm that though. Also, good article.

3 Chris Partida November 10, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Great article! Hope I never have to use that knowledge.

4 Andrew November 10, 2009 at 6:20 pm

Great tips! I remember seeing that Mythbusters episode and being totally surprised with the results. I second the advice of always having something in the car you can cut seat belts with and break windows with.

5 cmarnold November 10, 2009 at 8:45 pm

The passenger bit was what I was hoping for. Anyone have any (verified) suggestions for handling children, particularly in car seats, in this type of situation. I hope I’ll never have to remember any of it.

6 Billy November 10, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Near the beginning of October this year some friends and I were going on a bit of a road trip

A car a bit ahead of us on the highway got cut off and flipped over, rolling down the hill and into a canal.
Of course the car that cut her off didn’t stop.

My friends and I pulled off and ran over, myself and another guy dove in, opened the door and pulled her out. She was fine, just really shaken up. The water wasn’t all that deep, but she was upside down underwater, and as near as I could tell she wasn’t even trying to get out on her own, and if people hadn’t stopped to help then who knows what would have happened.

God forbid you are ever in a situation like this (or any other emergency situation really), the most important thing is to keep your head, if you stay calm you stand a much better chance of getting out than otherswise

7 J.D. Meier November 11, 2009 at 3:37 am

It’s a great reminder that what we see on TV doesn’t always work. I remember thinking that if a plane was ever going down, I would just climb out onto the wings and jump up at the last minute as hard as I could (I forget which movie I saw it.) Well, when my plane was doing the nasty dance in the sky, I quickly learned, the best I could do was squish in my seat and try not to lose my lunch.

Luckily, I did learn how to escape the ultimate car wash scenario by rolling down my windows (I forget which show, maybe the Incredible Hulk.)

I also learned how to climb a barb-wire fence. When you run up to it, throw your leather jacket over the top and then climb over it (I think it was MacGyver.)

8 Murchada November 11, 2009 at 8:19 am

Wow, I had recently read that you are supposed to wait for the pressure to equalize. I’m glad I read this article – Mythbusters is a cool show.

I keep forgetting to buy an emergency hammer. It would suck to die thinking that ‘maybe I should have picked up that hammer!’.

Duncroft Masterworks – pendants honoring ancient warrior cultures
http://www.duncroftmasterworks.com

9 Stephen Clay McGehee November 11, 2009 at 8:52 am

I’ve never been on the inside looking out, but I’ve been on the outside looking in. We’ve all seen the movies where a car runs into the water and the hero dramatically struggles for what seems like an eternity before bursting to the surface. I learned first-hand that it doesn’t work that way.

Exactly 3 years ago yesterday, my wife and I, along with my parents, were driving in Orlando to go to a dinner show. On the way, we watched as a car ran across a road and into a pond. It was going pretty fast, so it went quite a way out before it stopped. I stopped the car and pulled off the curb, ran out and started wading into the water. The car had been in the water maybe 30 seconds at most and the water was just below the window level. The woman in the driver seat was screaming for help. I thought, “Cool. It’s just sitting there in a shallow drainage area and I’ll just wade out there and help her to shore.” No such luck. It got deep very quickly and I swam out to the car. A couple other folks got in just seconds after I did and we all got there at about the same time. Here’s where it gets interesting.

I went to the passenger side, but quickly went to the driver side instead. It’s all kind of a blur, so I don’t remember exactly why other than he wasn’t responsive or the window was up – I just don’t recall. We’re trying to get the woman to just crawl out the widow but she just sat there screaming for us to help her. At this point, she could have crawled through the window (even though she was a “very large” woman) and things would have been a lot simpler. She missed her chance. Water started running in through her open window and things started to get really unpleasant quickly. In just a few seconds, that car went nose down straight to the bottom – with both of them still inside. I and about 3 or 4 other guys (by this time) were left treading water over nothing but a column of bubbles. Several of us tried to dive down, but it was just too deep for us to do anything. I could dive down enough to see the rear of the car, but not deep enough to do anything. At some point, the woman made it to the surface. I don’t know how, but I assume she decided to crawl through the window. She was helped to shore and by now a large crowd had gathered, sirens were on the way, and I could see 2 helicopters headed this way. The passenger finally made it to the surface (again, I have no idea how), but he was apparently dead. No pulse or breathing, and when we left, they were still doing CPR on him. With nothing more we could help with, and now just being more folks in the way, we left (made it to dinner but looked really bad and shivered the rest of the night).

OK, now for the whole point of this: Lessons learned.

1) Swimming and treading water with dress clothes, and all the junk that I routinely carry, is NOT easy. By the time I got to the car and tried convincing her to get out, I was so winded that I couldn’t do much good. I am a PADI certified Rescue Diver, so it’s not like I was completely new to this stuff. Being 50+ years old doesn’t help either though.

2) If you’re the one in the car, make sure the window is down. At this point, I don’t think I’ll feel comfortable crossing major bridges unless the windows are down. Opening the door just isn’t gonna happen until you’re at the bottom. Also, the water rushing in through the window builds up speed VERY quickly making it very difficult to get past. Get out NOW.

3) “Muscle memory” applies. When I got out, I turned the car off and put the keys in my pocket; my wife couldn’t move the car when needed. Dumb. Really dumb, but I didn’t even realize I had done it. You react the way you train, and this is the best lesson I’ve ever had on that.

4) “Tunnel vision” applies. I was focused on the car and didn’t think to remove my wallet, cell phone, etc. before going in. Result – dead phone, dead car remote, soaked wallet, etc. Not fun and not cheap.

5) Have something to break out the windows. I now have a “Life Hammer” mounted in easy reach. I hope I never have to use it.

After it was all over, I started to think of all the things that could have gone wrong and made a bad thing even worse. I (or others) could have gotten my shoes or pants tangled in the car and been dragged down with it; I could have gotten grabbed in a death-grip by the woman while leaning in to try and loosen the seatbelt; or I could have simply gotten so exhausted that I just sank by myself. As we drove away, I thought about how easily one of us in the water could have gone down and no one would notice in all the confusion. Lots of things that could go wrong. My point here is that running in to help someone is not always the best thing to do. Our Western culture tells us to value life and put our own at risk if need be – but don’t get yourself killed in the process. Help if you can, but there’s nothing manly about leaving your wife a widow.

Just my opinion, anyway.

10 Lee Hart November 11, 2009 at 9:36 am

@William –

As someone who works in an automotive-related industry (I do safety testing on various parts of cars, and whole cars, without going into too much detail) I can confirm that car windows are all made of glass. The difference you are thinking of is the fact that car side windows are made of what is known as “tempered glass.” This is a process that the glass is put through after forming it into sheets, which makes it’s crystalline structure form differently. It is similar to Corelleware, or any other glass baking dish, in that it is incredibly strong and durable, and resists more bending loads without breaking. However, what it means is that when it does break, it all breaks catastrophically. The altered crystalline structure makes it break into a roughly cubic structure, rather than into sharp shards (like you think of glass traditionally breaking) This does make the glass pieces less likely to cut you severely, but it is from the shape of the glass pieces, not from a plastic/glass mixture.

On a general note; the Mythbusters episode that dealt with this situation was spot-on in it’s analysis. They did it very scientifically and logically. The best thing to take away from that episode is the need to A) STAY CALM!, and B) have some sort of tool in your car to assist you breaking out the window, and probably cutting your belt as well, as this is likely going to be your best bet to get out of the car safely.

I mention cutting the belts, because most modern cars made after about 2002 (some before) have what is called a “pretensioner.” This is a (usually) pyrotechnic device in the retractor spool or buckle portion of your belt (depending on the maker of your car) which fires during some crashes (usually frontal only, but there are some differences) They usually fire when your airbag goes off, but some fire at other levels. The reason this could be a problem is that if you hit the water hard enough to set this off, it draws your seat belt very tightly across your body. This is very good in an actual car crash, but it usually means that you can’t unbuckle your belt anymore, since it is pulled so tightly across you that the buckle requires much more force to push down. So in this unfortunate situation, you not only have just had your airbag go off, but you’re sinking fast, and you have only seconds to cut yourself free from a seat belt that’s holding you in a car that’s filling with water, break your window, and swim yourself and your passengers to safety. …Even the manliest of men needs a helping hand from a well-designed tool in that situation!

Lee Hart; BSME

11 Benjamin Eikey November 11, 2009 at 9:38 am

Great article, but I’m disappointed to not see a post honoring those who have served this great country. Today is Veterans Day, after all.

12 Roger Barnett November 11, 2009 at 9:52 am

YIKES!
How about this for a suggestion: dial 911 if you can! Reports had it that two of the drowned women tried to call…a FRIEND! Nobody thought about 911? The FRIEND cannot track their phone; it’s possible that 911 can!

13 JB November 11, 2009 at 10:01 am

Gordon Giesbrecht, a professor at the University of Manitoba, has actually done controlled studies of escapes from vehicles in water (with kids). The Toronto Star ran an interview with him after the recent drowning deaths of three young women in North Dakota: http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/721068–how-to-get-out-of-a-sinking-car-seatbelts-children-windows-out. Giesbrecht’s procedure (unlike the one suggested here) is “Seatbelts, Children, Windows, Out.” You can’t get your kids out if you’re all belted in, and opening any door will let water in and sink your vehicle immediately. Once that happens, your chances drop from over 50 percent to around 30 percent or less. The window punch/seatbelt cutter, however, is a good suggestion — Giesbrecht keeps one on his rear-view mirror.

14 Mr Miyagi November 11, 2009 at 11:15 am

@ Stephen Clay McGehee
Wow man you got a lot of courage. I lived several years in Orlando and it’s a well known fact that even small ponds have gators in them. If it was me I probably wouldn’t have even tried helping that lady. You could have ended up being another gator attack. I remember a few years ago something similar happened to tourists from the UK who were visiting our neighborhood, and it didn’t end well.

15 Ryan November 11, 2009 at 11:50 am

@ Lee, and everyone else
Just to play devil’s advocate…
Where do you keep the belt cutting tool if in fact the pretensioner in your seatbelt goes off and you are tightly strapped to the seat?

16 Lee Hart November 11, 2009 at 12:21 pm

@Ryan,

They make models that you can keep attached to your keychain, which would be reachable from your seat, or you could keep it in your center console box (nearly all cars have some form of center console compartment that closes, so it would not be thrown around in a crash) Also, as was suggested before, you could attach or hang it from your rearview mirror, which for most people is reachable from their seat, even when you can’t move your torso forward or back.

17 imnocasablancas November 11, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Good article here, excellent knowledge to have. I could do with this never happening to me though haha. I enjoy these types of articles far more than the 50′s nostalgia articles.

18 Nicholas November 11, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Living in Canada, my question comes to what to do when you go through into freezing water? 2 of my friends died last January when in the back seat of a minivan that plunged through the ice into a frozen lake. Evidently it’s harder not to panic when ice-cold water sends your body into shock. Any thoughts?

19 CoffeeZombie November 11, 2009 at 5:21 pm

This brings me to another question: it’s all well and good to have everyone go out a front window when you are in a 2- or 4-door coupe or sedan. I wonder what one could do in a mini-van or similar vehicle. For example, I have a Honda Odyssey, with automatic side doors. The windows in the back open just enough to vent and the windows on the doors don’t open at all. The automatic doors can be a PITA to operate (they will not open if the car is not in park, for example), and because they’re designed to be opened by motors, they are tough to move manually on dry land.

I suppose the best bet one may have in such a situation is to ensure that a window-breaking tool is available in the back as well as for the driver/front-passenger. On the upside, the back windows are the largest windows in the car (windshield and rear window not included).

Any thoughts?

20 Playstead November 11, 2009 at 5:22 pm

Fantastic post. I hope it never happens, but the tips make sense. If you have a family, have them read this.

21 Brett McKay November 11, 2009 at 5:37 pm

@JB-

The article says that your survival chances go from 50% to 30% not when you open the door immediately, but when you wait for the car to fill with water and then open the door. The guy in the Top Gear video shows that opening the door immediately is actually very effective. Although he is right that it probably causes your car to sink much faster, so I definitely wouldn’t do it if you had kids in the car.

@Roger-
It’s a deadly idea to call 911. Yes they can track you, but you only have a minute or two to escape and if you use that minute to make a call, then you’re dead. The article JB shared had a great quote:

“When your vehicle hits the water, you have about a one-minute window to get out,” said Gordon Giesbrecht. “You should never touch your cellphone.”

22 Beowulf87 November 11, 2009 at 7:18 pm

I would like to point out that many quality knife-makers produce knives with built-in seatbelt cutters and glassbreakers, just like the Lifehammer. Two that come to mind are Boker’s Jim Wagner Reality-Based Rescue Blade, and Blackhawk’s Hawkhook. There are cheaper versions out there, though (Boker’s economy Magnum line has an orange EMT rescue knife as well), so don’t be discouraged.

I’ve never used or handled Lifehammer so have nothing negative to say, but I just had to step in and say, “Look, you can get three tools in one!”

http://www.boker.de/us/index.php?c=3000&a=01BO052&s1=wagner&s2=0&s3=9999&p=&pp=0
http://www.blackhawk.com/product/HawkHook,685,37.htm

Spencer

23 Mary Kay Kidwell November 11, 2009 at 7:48 pm

This is yet another amateur “solution” that can get someone killed. Trust the experts: Dr. Giesbrecht, mentioned above, has made numerous studies of this situation and has proven that immediate escape through a window is vital. I’ve consulted with him several times, as well as with the Indiana State Police dive team, who have produced a video that demonstrates the correct method and focuses on the important things to remember: pop seatbelt, open window, get out through the window and climb atop the car. Then, and only then, call for help. Do not open a door; this is what caused my teenage grandson’s death. He got his friend out the door and then became trapped. Since his death I have researched this issue and have set up a web site with information and links to the experts, including a link to the State Police video titled “Two Minutes to Survival.” Check it out at http://sites.google.com/site/getoutaliveorg. You can save yourself and others in the vehicle.

24 Brett McKay November 11, 2009 at 8:56 pm

@Mary-

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m sorry to hear about your grandson. However, this is not an “amateur” solution. The advice given above is based on the tests of two television shows which both found it easy to exit the car by opening the door. Dr. Giesbrecht even agrees:

“If you try early on, it is possible to muscle the door open, but then you take a vehicle that would float for maybe 60 seconds, and it’s going to sink within five to 10 seconds, because as you open the door, the water comes in, the vehicle sinks faster.
If the driver opens the car’s door, he or she might get out, but anyone in the back seat will likely drown, Giesbrecht added.”

This is what happened to your grandson. But it is an effective technique, just not if you have passengers. So I changed the passenger section to reflect this.

25 Alain November 12, 2009 at 1:58 am

wow interesting article i never would have thought that way but i just pray i never have to use this knowledge in my life ..lol

26 Murchada November 12, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Nicholas, I’d think it’s the same procedure – get out! Maybe strip off anything that’s going to make it hard to swim or escape, like a bulky winter jacket.

I’m not sure there’s much that can done about the cold water. My closest experience is getting an ice cold shower and finding breathing really difficult. I’ve read that you can go comatose/paralyzed as soon as you hit cold water. Women and children are less affected.

Mary Kay – great work – saving lives I’m sure!

Duncroft Masterworks – pendants honoring ancient warrior cultures
http://www.duncroftmasterworks.com

27 Robert May November 12, 2009 at 1:57 pm

YOU WILL DIE if you follow the above advice. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR. I have recovered a lot of bodies from cars in the water and they have all been on the bottom of the lake. Usually part of the car is showing above the water line. The people who have survived this situation all have one thing in common, they got out while the car was floating on the surface. After 16 years as a rescue diver you should do the following.
Wear your seat belt at all times, a load speed impact with the water is like landing on a pillow, but you should always wear your seat belt..
1) Unbuckle your seat belt
2) Roll your window down or BREAK GLASS
3) Go out of the window and get to the top of your car (like a NASCAR driver, this should take less than 20 seconds)
4) You have to save yourself no rescue team in the world will get there fast enough to save you.

Stay on top of your car and ride it like a boat and assess the situation. Call for help after you have escaped the car. Modern cars will float from 3 to 10 minutes. Chances are, in Indiana lakes and rivers, your car will not completely submerge and you can wait for help, ON TOP OF YOUR CAR. Get out while the car is on the surface, you probably won’t even get wet. If you have children with you put them on top of the car first. Never OPEN the car door, always go out the window. Opening the door allows water to enter quickly, will cause the car to tip, and will trap the other occupants.
Detective Robert May
Master Diver
Indiana State Police Underwater search and recovery team

28 Brett McKay November 12, 2009 at 9:14 pm

@Robert-

I appreciate your expertise, but you just repeated the information from Mary and her website. If your car is floating, what difference would it make if you opened a window or a door. And why do Mythbusters, Top Gear, and Dr. Giesbrecht say that you can open a door and escape? I’m definitely willing to change my mind about this, but I’d like to hear an explanation of why it’s the wrong thing to do if it has been demonstrated to be an effective method of escape?

29 Robert November 12, 2009 at 10:30 pm

I don’t know about the window versus the door debate, but there is debate over whether to take your seat belt off immediately like the diver above says, or to leave it on until right before you exit like this article says. This is a good website to check out:

http://saveyourlife.us/escape_sinking_car.html

It says:

“There have been studies done by Survival Systems USA, a Groton Connecticut company specializing in aviation and marine safety and survival training. They note that once a vehicle sinks it may turn sideways or upside down. Occupants who are not buckled in with a seat belt will float within the vehicle and can easily become disoriented. It then becomes extremely difficult for them to find the windows or door handles. They believe that if you remain in your seated position (as you will if your seatbelt remains fastened) you will retain your orientation regardless of what position the vehicle is in.”

Also, I saw the Mythbusters where they did the sinking car experiment, and it’s true-Adam was easily able to get out of the car simply by opening the door.

30 Stephen Clay McGehee November 13, 2009 at 6:35 pm

I will have to side with Robert on the door vs. window question. The idea is to get out as quickly as possible, and that means through the window. Opening the door means 1) you are pushing against a whole lot of water that is rushing in, and 2) a whole lot of water is rushing in causing the car to sink just that much faster.

I readily admit that I base this on the one and only experience I have had with a car in the water, and not on a TV program or controlled experiments. That experience though, will stay with me for the rest of my life. You don’t watch someone die without it causing you to think about it a lot. I can tell you that if I ever find myself on the inside looking to get out, I will be going through the window – not trying to open the door.

As for the car rolling and becoming disoriented, when I watched that car go down, it went straight down with the heavier engine on the bottom and the lighter trunk pointed up. It might have been different if the driver had tried to get out through the window immediately before it sank though, since she most likely would have pulled her weight up on the roof of the car. On the other hand, she would have been partially floating, making her effective weight less. You just can’t say for certain. All I know is that I would do anything I possibly could to get out just as quickly as possible. A seat belt holding me down would create a sense of panic, so I am pretty sure I’d be getting out of it just as quickly as possible regardless of what any studies might say. At a time like that, you are not doing a careful study and analysis – you are scrambling to get out fast. I saw just how many dumb things I did during that event – and I wasn’t the one in the car.

As for alligators, which one person mentioned – I’ve been around them enough to be pretty confident that they would be getting away from the area as quickly as they could. Not a problem (I hope).

31 Jesse November 26, 2009 at 3:07 pm

As a former EMT I carry my Gerber Hinderer Rescue Knife with me all the time. Well, perhaps no to airports . . . it has a window punch and seatbelt cutter built in (as well as an O2 tank key, for those needing to switch out oxygen tanks from time to time! hehe) and I can say from personal experience that the seatbelt cutter works wonderfully! Haven’t had the chance to bust an actual car window with the punch, but it clears out smaller solid class fragments quite nicely!

And yes, as mentioned above, although the broken glass from a car is ‘crystalline,’ it still cuts like a mofo.

32 David December 2, 2009 at 12:05 am

I am from Dickinson, ND. Thank you for writing the article in remembrancer of our girls.

33 Doug April 21, 2010 at 6:38 am

Too bad this article wasn’t written in early 1969. Mary Jo Kopechne could have benefited from this information.

34 Mark P August 19, 2010 at 3:20 am

Yet another reason I carry a gun with me. I might be deaf when I reach the surface but I can shoot the window as many times as I need to get that window open.

35 Tom July 26, 2013 at 10:49 am
36 Scott September 12, 2013 at 10:27 am

If your headrest can be removed completely from the back of your seat it will have two metal bars at the end which could be used as tools to smash the glass of your windshield or window.

37 Adam December 20, 2013 at 3:50 am

I have a small knife in my pickup that has both a belt cutter and a pointy window breaking tip on the hilt.

I wonder though, if this fairly cheap tool is actually capable of breaking a car window? For some weird reason there are no or very few scrapyards around here, else I would visit one and test it on a real window. I rather suspect that it just looks good but the metal isn’t hardened enough.

What I DO recall from my youth was that a broken spark plug was popular with my biker friends, as the ceramic was plenty hard enough to shatter the side window or windscreen of “cagers” that attacked with their cage (car).

38 MrLiberty December 20, 2013 at 12:58 pm

I guess it goes without saying, but don’t go driving anywhere with a Kennedy.

39 Stephen December 20, 2013 at 5:17 pm

1) Would trust nothing but a whopping big hammer to break a window.

2) If the hammer is laying somewhere, it will dislodge in the crash and be laying on the floor when your seat belt pretensioners kick in and you’re stuck in your seat.

3) You’ve got 90 seconds to live. Don’t waste it calling 911. In fact, don’t EVER call a government agency for help of any kind for any reason. There is no disaster so terrible that government cannot make it worse. And even if you survived the crash and avoid drowning, they’ll probably find a reason to take you to jail.

4) An ounce of prevention. Reading this article will make me treat water crossings far more serious. I can barely swim even in a pool. My life-saving tactics will start while I’m still in the car on dry pavement.

Good article guys.

40 Bill December 20, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Heck, carry a real claw hammer.
It makes a great weapon if needed and should bust right through the window.
I have one in my truck door pocket.
Also, I never wear a seat belt…but suit yourself.

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