How do you survive being trapped in a sinking car? You only have 30 seconds — so here’s what to do.

September 14, 2017 5:21 pm Last Updated: November 24, 2017 5:38 pm


The recent extreme weather throughout the country has been reminding people everywhere to be ready for emergency situations.

But there’s one scenario that can be be extremely lethal — especially since few people are taught how to properly react:

Being trapped in a sinking car.

(ABC News/Screenshot)

Once your car becomes submerged in water, it becomes impossible to open the doors — and many people naturally panic and don’t know what to do. To make things worse, it was previously believed the best way to escape was to let the car sink and then escape — something that has now been proven ineffective.

On the contrary, if your car becomes submerged, you need to escape immediately — a quick reaction can make the difference between life and death.

Sadly, many people don’t make it as a result.

ABC News reports that an estimated 400 people a year die in a sinking car.

(ABC News/Screenshot)

Luckily, there are people trying to change that statistic — by demonstrating the proper evacuation procedure.

Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, a researcher and physiologist, emphasized that immediate action was crucial.

“The first 30 to 60 seconds is when you have to get out of that vehicle,” he told ABAC News. Getting out of the car before it sinks is the most important thing to remember.

(ABC News/Screenshot)

But to really bring home that message, he set up a demonstration — using a professional dive team in an actual submerged vehicle.

There were four passengers in the car, and to show how quickly evacuation can be done with the right preparedness, they set up a real-time clock.

(ABC News/Screenshot)

Once the car hits the water, the divers react immediately, take off their seatbelts and down their windows.

(ABC News/Screenshot)

They climb out the front windows. Within only eight seconds, the first two passengers escape:

(ABC News/Screenshot)

As water fills the car, the rear two passengers climb over the seats and escape out the front windows.

This was done to demonstrate what to do if the rear windows don’t fully open — in many cars, they won’t.

(ABC News/Screenshot)

And in only 20 seconds, everyone has escaped.

(ABC News/Screenshot)

Dr. Giesbrecht — who was one of the escapees in the back seat — showed that the escape was doable, even under the most extreme conditions.

“The car went down quicker than I thought it would,” he told ABC News. “I had a real in-flow of water i had to work against to get out.”

“But it can be done.”

You might think that this is harder than it looks when done by professionals, and you’re right. Not everyone will react this smoothly.

But that’s also the point: you only have a chance of escaping if you are prepared, and that’s why education on the procedure is so important to everyone.

“Everybody knew what they were supposed to do,” Giesbrecht said. 

“Get your seat belt off, open the window, get out. Period.”

To make sure people are prepared for any situation, Giesbrecht covers all the bases. He does a second demonstration with kids in the backseat (don’t worry, they’re dummies).

Similar procedure: remove your seatbelt and open the window, and then unstrap your kids. An important detail: unstrap your children in reverse-age order: oldest first, youngest last.

(ABC News/Screenshot)

And what if your windows won’t open at all?

Giesbrecht recommends keeping an emergency window breaker handy in the car, and demonstrates its ease of use.

(ABC News/Screenshot)

It’s important stuff to know. You’ll probably never be trapped in a sinking car — but if you are, you’ll be more prepared than so many unfortunate victims who didn’t respond in time.