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Safety Tips for Surviving an Auto Crash Involving a Vehicle Landing in Water
Nobody wants to find themselves facing the nightmare of being trapped in a vehicle that has landed in a body of water following an auto accident. Sadly, more people die of drowning in car accidents, than in boating accidents. As recently reported on ABC’s Good Morning America: “According to insurance and automotive groups, more than 11,000 accidents occur each year in which a vehicle ends up in the water. An estimated 300 people drown each year in their car or truck, many of them needlessly.” The Chicago car accident attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer, P.C. believe that every driver should be equipped with valuable, and potentially life-saving knowledge in the event of such a calamitous incident.
- Stay Calm. Try to maintain focus so that you can evaluate the situation. Thinking and acting quickly, rather than panicking, will greatly increase your chances of survival.
- Surviving Impact. Although accidents, by their very nature, do not always afford drivers the presence of aforethought prior to impact, if you do find yourself in the position of an imminent collision, there are important safety precautions that should be taken. Brace yourself by firmly grasping the steering wheel. If your vehicle is equipped with airbags, be prepared for the possibility of their deployment. Resist the urge to remove your seatbelt prior to impact with a body of water; doing so could result in severe injury from the impact itself, which may then prevent escape from the vehicle.
- Do NOT call 911. If your vehicle has crashed into a body of water, do not attempt to call 911. Chances are that emergency response services will not arrive in time to prevent drowning.
- Evaluate the situation. Many factors, such as the angle in which a vehicle enters water or the type of vehicle can alter the manner and rate in which a vehicle sinks. Also, assessing the potential depth of the water can play a critical role in circumstances where you are forced to wait for the pressure to equalize, which is discussed later in this article. In sum, evaluating the situation is essential in determining when to perform crucial actions such as removing your seatbelt, opening or breaking a window, and/or opening a door.
- Don’t Wait to Escape. If the vehicle appears to be temporarily floating, or is sinking slowly, and no water has reached the windows, open the door or window if you are able to. Remember that the more the vehicle becomes submerged, the less likely you will be able to open them, without waiting for the pressure to equalize. Next, quickly remove your seatbelt, exit through the window, and swim to safety. This scenario represents the best case scenario, however, it is also an unlikely one, given a vehicle’s propensity to sink at a quick rate of speed. In any event, do NOT wait to escape!
- When to Remove Seatbelt. If the vehicle is completely submerged, it may be best to keep your seatbelt on while you evaluate the situation. In this scenario keeping your seatbelt on can provide two important functions. First, the seatbelt can provide leverage while either pushing open the door or breaking a window. Second, the seatbelt may be necessary to hold you in place from the force of water rushing in through your location of exit.
- Pressure Equalization. There are conflicting theories as to the appropriate actions to take when the vehicle is already partially submerged and appears to be sinking quickly. Some say that you can try to open the window to exit, but that the pressure of rushing water may make it impossible to swim to safety. Note that the door will likely be too heavy to push open while the vehicle is sinking. Due to the threat of rushing water and unequal pressure, the minority view advises waiting until the vehicle is fully submerged, and the pressure has equalized before attempting to exit. However, waiting for pressure to equalize may result in drowning, especially in circumstances where the depth of the water is significant. Consequently, the majority opinion advises attempting escape from the vehicle as quickly as possible. If you are unable to roll down a window, then you will have to break it. Don’t attempt to break the front windshield, it is virtually impossible. If you do not have a glass breaking tool in the vehicle, you can use a heavy or pointed object to pierce the window, such as a screwdriver, the heel of a shoe, or even a laptop. If you are unable to break the window with an object, then you may be able to do it with your foot, or by wrapping your fist to punch out the window. By having kept your seatbelt on, you are already prepared for situations like this. Aim for the center of the window and strike the window with as much force as possible
- Don’t Panic. In circumstances where the vehicle has become completely submerged, and you are unable to escape through a window or door, you might be forced to wait for the water pressure to equalize. Stay calm, preserve your energy and air, and wait until the pressure equalizes, which generally occurs a few seconds after the vehicle reaches the bottom of the water. Upon pressure equalization, you should be able to open the door or escape through a window.
- After Escape. Use your feet and hands to kick yourself to the surface. However, if others are escaping behind you, you may want to use your hands only until you are sure the others have escaped, so as to prevent kicking other occupants of the vehicle. If the water is dark or murky and you are unsure where to go, look for light or follow the direction of air bubbles.
Surviving an auto accident in which your vehicle has been submerged in water is undoubtedly a traumatic experience. However, losing a loved one to such a tragic death is not only traumatic, but is often life changing. The Chicago auto accident attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer, P.C. recommend that you share the safety tips provided herein with your friends and family, in hopes that it may prevent unnecessary death. In the unfortunate event that that you or loved one were involved in a car wreck that you suspect was caused by the negligence of another, it is important that you know your legal rights.