Would You Know How to Escape a Sinking Car? Most People Don’t

It’s the stuff of movie thrillers. The car goes off a bridge or over an embankment. It bursts through the air, landing with a mighty splash in the river, pond or lake underneath. The people inside desperately bang on the windows, trying to break the glass.

Is escaping from a submerged car something that you absolutely need to know? Yes! Even if it doesn’t seem likely, being prepared never hurts – especially when you have kids. Knowing how to escape a sinking car and teaching it to your children may just save your family’s lives.

What should you do if you’re ever caught in a sinking car?

  1. Act quickly. Obviously. You knew that, right? But, what you need to do is get out before the car actually goes all of the way under. This might mean that you have under one minute to get your seatbelt off, open a window and slide out.
  2. Keep calm. Okay, so this is much easier said than done in a situation where your car is about to go under. Even so, experts believe that this is key to your safety. Firefighter/paramedic Jason Morss told ABC News, “Staying calm absolutely is the number one priority.” He goes on to add, “Once you lose that control you pretty much lose everything else.” Staying calm allows you to act quickly and get out before the car goes under.
  3. Unbuckle first. Before trying to break open a window (or roll it down), take off your seatbelt. You need the freedom of movement to get out safely. You also need to unbuckle your child or undo car seat belts before trying to get out of the sinking car.
  4. Open the window. Ideally, you’re able to do this before the car goes under water. But, the ‘ideal’ saturation doesn’t always happen (and yes, we know none of this is at all ideal). If you can’t get the windows down, stash a break tool to shatter the glass. The side windows may break more easily than the windshield – as the windshield is made from tempered glass.
  5. Try the door. Let’s say the car has gone under. Not only has it gone under, but you can’t seem to open or break the windows. Now what? The door may work as an exit. As the car is going under, it’s not likely that the door will open. At this point, the water pressure is greater than the air inside of the car. This pressure makes it almost impossible to open the car’s door. As the water-level inside of the car rises, the pressure equalizes and you may be better able to get out of the car. Keep in mind, this is a last resort. You should always try to get out of the car through a rolled down or broken window before the car fills with water.
  6. Push your kids out. It’s not easy for anyone to swim out of a submerged car, let alone a young child. Get your child out first, pushing him through the window as you escape behind him.

While it’s tempting to grab your phone and dial for emergency help before you even try to escape the sinking car, experts say that this wastes precious time. Gordon Geisbrecht, a law enforcement officer trainer from the University of Manitoba, tells Popular Mechanics, “Time is critical.”

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With this in mind, he recommends that you use your time to get out of the car, and wait to make any calls for help.

Avatar of Erica Loop

Erica Loop is a mum, parenting writer and educator with an MS in child development. Along with writing for websites such as PBS Parents,, Scary Mommy,, Modern Mom, and others, she also is the creator of a kids' activities and art blog.

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