An estimated 400 people die every year trapped in a vehicle submerged in water.
Experts say if your car careens into a lake or river, the action you take in the first 30-60 seconds can be the difference between life and death.
Your instinct may be to reach for your cell phone and call 911, but experts say first responders probably won’t arrive before your vehicle sinks. Making that call could waste precious time and every second counts if you want to survive.
“The average vehicle will sink in about 2 and a half minutes,” says Michigan State Police Trooper Joel Kuhn.
You need to act fast.
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR CAR ENDS UP IN WATER
“Roll down the window, unbuckle your seatbelt and exit through that window,” says Trooper Kuhn.
Just three steps to remember. It sounds easy, but Trooper Kuhn says in an emergency adrenaline kicks in and simple actions can take longer than normal.
“Once that panic sets in if you don’t know that there's a plan now you’re in a more dire situation.”
HOW TO HELP SOMEONE TRAPPED IN A SUBMERGED VEHICLE
What if you are on the outside and you see someone else trapped in a sinking vehicle, how do you help that person without becoming a victim yourself?
1) KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS
“Know your limitations first before you enter the water,” says Trooper Kuhn. It will be much harder than you expect in part because adrenaline spikes in an emergency situation.
“It really affects how long you can hold your breath,” says Kuhn.
2) FIND A FLOTATION DEVICE
A full sized spare tire or a cooler can both hold a decent amount of weight. Take the extra minute or two to find something you can use as a floatation device. You will need it.
3) NEVER JUMP OR DIVE IN TO RESCUE SOMEONE
“We don’t always know what that body of water consists of we don’t know the depth,” says Trooper Kuhn.
Swim out to where you saw the car sink, then scoop your hands above your head like you’re doing jumping jacks to propel yourself feet first down to the vehicle. It takes more energy that you expect, but it’s the safest approach.
Once you’ve made it to the car door, open it if you can. Expect resistance from the water pressure. You may need to bring something down to break open the window. Then unlatch the seatbelt and grab the person by the shirt or arm and pull! Once they are out of the car, the water will help you take them to the surface.
Hopefully that tire or cooler is waiting for you to grab onto at the top because you will be gasping for air and holding another person above water will feel near impossible without help.
Trying to rescue someone is always more dangerous than waiting for first responders. It’s also much harder for people not trained in these rescue techniques, but it is possible as long as you have a plan.
“People constantly amaze themselves I think when their body says no more, there’s always something more to give,” says Kuhn.