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How to escape from a sinking car

Follow these top tips on how to get out of a sinking car, fast. Remember that it is possible to escape and survive, if you remain calm.

How to escape a sinking car infographic by The Art of Manliness

How to escape a sinking car infographic by The Art of Manliness

When it was announced today that a woman in New Zealand almost died as her car sank into the harbour, we decided to write a guide about how to survive a sinking car.

Stay calm

The thought of being stuck inside a sinking vehicle is absolutely terrifying, but it is important to remain calm if ever you found yourself in this situation, as most deaths of this kind can be a result of panic.

Act quickly

There will be no time to delay. Before you even hit the water you need to act, by putting yourself in the brace position to avoid injury upon impact. Place your hands at either side of the steering wheel, so that if the airbag is activated, it won’t force your hands into your face causing harm.

Do not open the door

This is the worst thing you could do. The car will rapidly sink if you open the door, as the water will fill the inside of the car immediately. The window is your best chance of escape.

Undo or cut your seatbelt

Attend to your own seatbelt first, then help others if there are more people in the car. It is important to be able to move. Professor at the university of Manitoba and expert on cold water survival, Dr Gordon Giesbrecht came up with the motto: Seatbelt, children, window, OUT. This is a good structure to follow.

Get out through the window

Lower the window. Electric windows will still work for a short time after the car is submerged in water. If you can’t get the window open, try to kick it through, or use your emergency hammer if you have one. Don’t even bother to open the car door, you will waste precious time and energy, as the air pressure within the car won’t allow the door to open once you begin to submerge.

If you don’t have any implements to smash the window with, you should aim your kick near the front of the window. It is extremely hard to break a car window by kicking it, but aiming for this breaking point will improve your chances.

Remember that if the waterline is rising above the window, you will be hit by a flood of water once the window breaks, but you should still be able to swim out.

If there are children in the car, push them out through the window first, then follow after.

Wait for the pressure to equalise?

It has been suggested that the wise thing to do is to wait for the pressure to equalise, however, two TV shows have proved this to be false; Mythbusters and Top Gear. Whilst it is technically true that you can open the door when this happens, the likelihood is that you would have to wait until it is too late. Also, if you were to open the door with passengers inside, you might escape, but they won’t. You are better to act quickly on the window.

Swim to safety

Get out through the window as quick as you can and swim to safety. If you are disoriented and panicked, look for the direction of the air bubbles, and follow them to the top.

Seek help

Be aware that any injuries you have attained may not be immediately evident to you, as you will be full of adrenaline and are likely to be very disorientated. Hypothermia is also a real risk after being submerged in cold water for a period of time.

Part one of Richard Hammond's attempt to escape a sinking car on Top Gear.

About the Author

Sophie McGraw

Staff Writer at Arnold Clark