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Escaping From A Vehicle

The decision to escape the vehicle must be made as soon as the vehicle leaves the road and enters the water. Attempt to rapidly extricate yourself and escape before the vehicle begins to sink. If the occupants delay their escape from the vehicle and the vehicle begins to sink, it may not be possible to make an escape until the water pressure has equalized inside the vehicle.

To accomplish this, these emergency procedures should be rehearsed before the emergency occurs.

Emergency Escape Procedures:

1. Brace yourself for impact.
a. If you know you are going off the road and into a body of water, adopt a brace position by placing both hands on opposite sides of your head, making an “X” with your arms and letting the outside hand grab the shoulder belt. While the impact injuries may not be fatal, the flailing injuries can injure your hands or arms, reducing your ability to open windows or doors.

2. Open the window as soon as you can.
a. Immediately after impact, open the window slowly and let water in to equalize the pressure between the inside and the outside of the car. It may feel counterintuitive to let water into the car, but the sooner the pressure equalizes, the sooner you’ll be able to open the door and escape. Studies have shown that the electric power may stay on for as much as 10 minutes. Or, the battery can short out immediately, making the electric window switches useless.
b. Use a body reference point to identify and locate the door latch, window crank or electric window switch. As an example, the driver should practice finding the location of these by touching his knee or hip with his/her left hand and then move the hand laterally to the door.
c. A rescue/escape tool should be immediately available for punching out the window and cutting seatbelts. This tool should be mounted on the sidewall of the driver’s side compartment, attached to the key ring, or located in some other conspicuous location that can be easily accessed during an emergency. If you can’t open the window more than halfway, or if you have power windows that won’t work in the water, break the glass with the window punch device. Because the windows, as well as the rear window, are constructed of tempered glass, they will easily shatter using an appropriate rescue/escape tool, such as a life hammer device, or a spring-loaded window punch. Many of the commercially available rescue/escape tools also have an integrated seat-belt cutter/blade that provides the ability to slice away a seat belt should its release mechanism fail or jam.

Examples of rescue/escape tools:

3. Remain calm.
a. This scenario will no doubt get your adrenaline pumping, but don’t panic. You must move quickly and effectively to ensure your survival. While there is still air in the car, take slow, deep breaths and focus on what you’re doing. When water reaches your chin, take a deep breath.

4. Keep your seat belt on.
a. If you instinctively release your seat belt, you may, due to underwater disorientation, end up moving away from the window or door opening. Several tons of water will enter the car cabin. You cannot escape through this ingress of water, and if you release your seat belt early, the water entry could move you away from your seat by the window. Remove the belt when egress is available.

5. While you can see it, place your outside hand (the hand closest to the door) on the door latch.
a. If you are underwater and unable to see, use physical reference by starting your outside hand from your hip, feeling along until you locate the latch. Don’t bother trying to open the door if the car is partially submerged, since the water pressure against the door from the outside is more than you can overcome. Check to make sure the door is unlocked.

6. Escape through the window or door.
a. If the car is floating, you might be able to do this before water fills the car. If you’re sinking rapidly, however, you will have to wait until the car interior floods. If you must break a window while underwater, select a window that is away from the air pocket in the vehicle to avoid losing the air when the window is broken. Once this happens, you can escape through the window, or open the door with your outside hand, then unbuckle your seat belt.
b. Because of the angled nose-down position in the water and the pressure exerted by the water against the doors, as well as structural damage to the vehicle as a result the crash, it may be extremely difficult or impossible to open the driver’s side and passenger doors of the vehicle in order to affect an escape. Therefore, the only avenue of escape may be through the car door windows. Exit to the high side of the vehicle away from air pocket.
c. Side and rear windows are the best options for escape. Front windows (windshields) are made with safety glass, which will stick together when broken and which may thus be difficult to remove. Some more expensive cars also use safety glass for the sides. Inflate a PFD if available, once you exit from the vehicle is complete and do not kick your feet as you could injure other passengers.

7. Swim to the surface as quickly as possible.
a. Push off the car and swim to the surface. If you don’t know which way to swim, look for light and swim toward it or follow any bubbles you see as they will be going up, or allow yourself to float for a moment. You will eventually start to float towards the surface.

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