How to escape from a sinking car: 13 steps (with pictures)

How to escape from a sinking car: 13 steps (with pictures)
How to escape from a sinking car: 13 steps (with pictures)

All car accidents are scary, but getting stuck in a sinking car is even more terrifying. Fortunately, you and your passengers have a good chance of getting through this if you stay calm and act quickly. Undo your seat belt immediately after touching the water, open or break one of the windows, get out, and help the other passengers out, starting with the children. Prepare for these kinds of accidents by keeping a hammer to smash the windows in the car and by repeating the escape plan.


Method 1 of 2: Get out of the car quickly

Escape from a Sinking Car Step 1

Step 1. Prepare for impact if you are driving

As soon as you realize that you are going to leave the road to enter a body of water, you must get into position. If you are driving the car, you should put both hands on the steering wheel in the "10 and 2 o'clock" position. The impact of the vehicle entering the water could activate the airbags and you could seriously injure yourself if you were in any other position at the time.

Do not try to get into position if you are a passenger. If you bow your head or raise your arms in the air, you may actually increase the risk of injury to yourself on impact

Escape from a Sinking Car Step 2

Step 2. Try to stay calm and act quickly

Panic will reduce your energy reserves, use up the precious air in the cabin, and you could pass out. As soon as you feel that you are going to fall into the water, take two or three deep breaths and repeat to yourself: "I have to stay focused and act now". Focus on what's going on right now and what you're going to have to do to escape.

  • Tell yourself: "I have to undo my seat belt, open the window and get out".
  • You will have between 30 and 60 seconds to act before the car is completely submerged and it becomes almost impossible to get out.


do not call for help before getting out of the car. You will waste precious seconds calling them, which will reduce your chances of escaping.

Escape from a Sinking Car Step 3

Step 3. Unfasten your seat belt

As soon as you touch the water, unfasten your seat belt. You will not be able to go out if you are still tied up.

  • This is the first step of the SWO protocol (undo your seat belt, open the window, get out) developed by the car safety expert, Dr Gordon Giesbrecht.
  • If there are children or other passengers in the car who might need help, don't worry about unbuckling their seat belts. Your priority is to untie yours so that you can create a loophole as quickly as possible.
Escape from a Sinking Car Step 4

Step 4. Open one of the windows as soon as you have detached yourself

Once you've undid the seat belt, you need to act quickly to open the window before the water level rises above the door. Once the water applies pressure to the glass, it will be virtually impossible to open or break it. If your car has power windows, they should continue to operate for several minutes after impact in the water.

Do not try to open the door. The water pressure outside the door will prevent you from opening it within seconds of contact with the water. Even if you can open it, it will bring more water in and the car will sink even faster

Escape from a Sinking Car Step 5

Step 5. Break the glass if you cannot open it

If you can't open it or if you only manage to open it halfway, you're going to have to break it. If you don't have tools on hand to do this (for example a hammer to break the glass), you can pull out one of the headrests of the seats and bang against the glass in a lower corner several times with the metal rods protruding from the headrest.

  • Since the front of the car is heavier and will usually come in contact with water first, you should not try to exit through the windshield. It is also designed to be more difficult to break than the rest of the windows in the vehicle. Instead, try breaking the driver's side window or the rear window.
  • If you don't have tools or heavy objects to break it, use your feet. Tap near the front of the glass or along the hinges rather than aiming for the middle.
Escape from a Sinking Car Step 6

Step 6. Take the kids out first

If there are children in the car, you should immediately undo their seat belts and push them through the open window. It will be easier for you to get them out and follow them rather than coming back inside the cockpit once you get out of it.

If there are more than one child in the vehicle, take the older one out first. He can then help the youngest and ensure their safety

Escape from a Sinking Car Step 7

Step 7. Escape through the open or broken window

Once you've opened a window and got the kids out, get out as quickly as possible. Your car is probably already filling with water and sinking quickly, which is why you should be prepared to go through the window and swim to the surface.

If you must swim to get to the surface, do not kick your feet until you are completely out of the cabin to avoid injuring the passengers behind you. Use your arms to propel yourself forward

Escape from a Sinking Car Step 8

Step 8. Try to open a door if the car is submerged

If you can't open one of the windows before the car sinks, you may still be able to exit through one of the doors. Take deep breaths while there is air in the vehicle, then unlock the door closest to you. Once the car is full of water, the pressure inside and outside will equalize and it will be possible to open the door. Hold your breath and push hard against the door while operating the handle to open it before swimming to the surface.

  • It takes between one and two minutes for the passenger compartment to fill completely with water. Unfortunately, your chances of getting out of this situation are very slim unless you have access to a source of oxygen.
  • Continue to breathe normally until the water comes to your chest, then take a deep breath and pinch your nose.
  • Stay calm. Keep your mouth closed to control your breathing and to avoid swallowing water.
  • If you exit through an open door, put your hand on the doorknob. If you can't see it, use a physical reference by reaching out your hand at hip level and groping along the door until you feel the handle.
Escape from a Sinking Car Step 9

Step 9. Get back to the surface as quickly as possible if the car is submerged

Lean against the vehicle to propel yourself towards the surface. If you don't know which direction to swim, find where the light is coming from and either follow it or follow the direction the bubbles are moving up. Pay attention to your surroundings as you swim, you may have to overcome strong currents or avoid obstacles like rocks, concrete bridge piers, or even boats. If the surface of the water is covered with ice, swim towards the hole that the impact with the car created.

Do your best to avoid injuring yourself on any of these obstacles, and use branches, supports, and other objects to hang on to them if you are injured or tired

Escape from a Sinking Car Step 10

Step 10. Call for help when you are out

After you have escaped from the car and returned to the surface, you can call 112 or the local emergency number to report the accident. If you left your phone in the car, you can have another motorist stop to help you by keeping you warm, comforting, and getting you to the nearest hospital.

  • The adrenaline in your system after such an accident is likely to make you unable to feel any injuries you might have suffered while escaping from the car, so you need to see a doctor as soon as possible.
  • Hypothermia is a real possibility, depending on water temperature, passenger and driver shock, and outside temperature.

Method 2 of 2: Create a back-up plan

Escape from a Sinking Car Step 11

Step 1. Review the SWO plan with your family

You will have a better chance of escaping from a sinking car if everyone knows what to do in advance. Talk to your family members and those who get into the car with you so everyone knows what to do in the event of an accident. Repeat the following sentences to yourself.

  • We unfasten the belts.
  • We open or break the window.
  • We go out (children first).

Did you know ?

: This technique is sometimes called SCWO, a variation that consists of helping children before opening the window. However, some car safety experts recommend that you do not untie children until you have opened or broken one of the windows.

Escape from a Sinking Car Step 12

Step 2. Keep a tool for breaking the glass

It will be easier for you to break the glass in the event of an accident in the water if you have a specialized tool that you store in an easily accessible and obvious place. Buy a glass breaking punch, hammer or keychain and keep it in the car at all times.

For example, you could hang it on the interior mirror or on your keychain so that you can grab it quickly

Escape from a Sinking Car Step 13

Step 3. Practice detaching quickly

When trying to get children out in an emergency, it can be difficult to see them release their seat belts as quickly as possible, especially if they are in child seats. Practice undoing the seat belt as quickly as possible with them. Once they are comfortable enough with this gesture, have them do it with their eyes closed.

You could also keep a special tool in the car for cutting the seat belts in case it becomes too difficult to unfasten them


  • Do not encumber yourself with excessively heavy or unnecessary objects when exiting the passenger compartment. Remember that there is nothing more important in this kind of situation than your life and that of those close to you.
  • In most cases, you don't have to wait for help. They probably won't find you or arrive in time to get you out of the car.

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