5 Steps To Escape From A Car Sinking In Water


It may sound silly, but I had an unusual dream that woke me up this morning …

Me and a couple family members were driving in a truck near a river bank and we must have went too close, because the back end of the truck slipped over the edge and we all went over the side.

In my dream, it happened pretty fast and before the people in the car stopped cursing we started to sink. It’s fuzzy, but I think that it was a pond we were sinking into and mostly mud.


My first reaction was to take off my seatbelt to start climbing out, then I realized what the heck were my family members doing?

Then we started sinking faster, I got a little panicked and I woke up.

Unfortunately, I woke up from that dream (nightmare?) before we could all save each other, but it’s been on my mind.

After a little research I discovered that this happens to about 10,000 people each year.  In Canada alone, 10 percent of drowning deaths can be attributed to being submerged in a car, and about 400 North Americans die from being submerged in a car every year.

What’s the best way to escape from a sinking car?

Mythbusting: Don’t Wait For The Car To “Pressurize”

For I don’t know how long, I remember the advice I’ve always heard has been that when you are in a sinking car you should wait till the water completely submerges the car and fills the inside so that it pressurizes to the same degree as outside the car. Then you’re supposed to open the door.

This is true.

It will also most likely get you killed.

This is because it takes a while for the car to completely fill with water. In that time period, you have to remain calm, hold your breath, and make sure that the rest of your family holds their breath.

The TV show Mythbusters actually tested this and while Adam could eventually open the door, he ran out of breath first, and had to have his friend give him oxygen to wait it out. In real life he would be dead.

It “should” take about 30 seconds to a minute for the water to rise to the bottom of the passenger windows. That’s all assuming you landed “wheels first”. This is actually your best time to escape — while the car is “floating” a little bit and before it has started to sink quickly. In other words, the water has not yet reached the windows.

5 Steps to Save Yourself and Your Family

The number one thing to remember is to stay calm.

Remind yourself that you have a plan for this situation.

Start talking. You need to be calm and start telling your family the plan. We are all gonna get out of this car, and here is how we are going to do it.

Step 1: Wait To Call 911

If you can grab your cell phone, for sure grab it and stick it in a pocket. Now is NOT the time to waste your energy, breath, or very important seconds to call 911.

As soon as you get out of the car, you can call 911. Grab your cell phone but dont use it yet (if it’s within arms reach).

Step 2: Seatbelts

If you can’t grab your cell phone within 1 second, in other words, if it’s not within arms reach, then this is step 1.

You need to undue your seatbelt. Tell everyone in your car, “Everybody take your seat belt off now”.

If for some reason your seatbelt is stuck, then you will need to cut the seatbelt off.

Step 3: Window

You are going to ignore your door as a way to escape. There is too much pressure against it and if you do get it open it will let in more water which will drown the rest of your family too quickly.

The window is your best escape.

If you start moving quickly, within the first few seconds of hitting the water then you can probably still use your electric windows.

If you wait too long they may or may not short out and they won’t roll down. If you move quickly enough, then you can actually get out of the window before the water level is the height of the window.

If the water is already passing over the windows, you can still get out the window, just be aware that when you open the window a LOT of water is going to rush into your face, just hold your breath and be ready to swim past it as soon as possible.

If you can’t roll down the window then you need to break it. You can use any part of your body, but your legs are probably strongest and the best part to hit the window is the corner of the window near where the hinges are (the b pillar).

In the picture below you can see the “B pillar” labeled and my red arrow shows where to hit the window:


Here is Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht who did a study on escaping from sinking cars demonstrating the correct place to hit the window, and he lays in the back seat and kicks his feet through that spot:


It’s worth mentioning that you should probably have a tool in your car that you can bust out the window with quickly and easily.

Step 4: Children

Because they’re your kids of course you’re going to want to save them first and in this scenario it’s actually a good idea.

Make sure the kids are unbuckled and after you open or break the window you’re gonna wanna push them out first and follow them through the window.

If you have younger/older kids then start with the oldest ones.

Step 5: Out!

Finally, get your kids out and then get out yourself.

The aforementioned Dr. Giesbrecht, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Manitoba, did a 2006 study, Automobile Submersion: Lessons in Vehicle Escapeand the results were promising using this strategy of escape.

What’s promising is, all the vehicles in Giesbrecht’s study floated before they sank. Float times varied between 30 seconds and two minutes.

If you keep calm and remember the simple plan – seatbelt, window, children, out — then that should be plenty of time for you to save your life and the life of your family.

In one instance, three adults and a child were all able to escape out of the driver’s side window in 51 seconds.

Can You Fit Through Your Car Window?

One more thing to think about …

Can you fit through your car window? If you are too obese to fit through your car window, and too big to be able to move around in your front seat to even position yourself to get out of the window (even if you fit) … or if it would be impossible for you to swivel around and kick out the window because you’re so out of shape or inflexible … then you should really try to get into shape.

Like most of what I share, this information is completely useless, if you lack the physical ability to pull it off.

It’s a simple fact of life that the more fit you are, the higher your levels of survivability.

In Conclusion …

My dream about sinking in a truck with my family inside was not pleasant, but with this plan I know I’ll be ready if the real thing ever happens.

Remember these 5 steps to get out of a sinking car and you’ll be fine too.





  1. Did you test any full sized American heavy duty diesel pickups? They have heavier engines in front, heavier frames, running gear, everything, particularly the Dodge Ram 2500/3500 with the Cummins Turbo Diesel, the engine alone weighs around 1250 pounds compared to the Ford around 850 pounds and Chevy’s alloy around 650 pounds. I have the Dodge Ram 2500 4WD with the Cummins, so just wondering but hoping this never happens!

    David Rogers

    • David, I did no testing myself …

      And the author of the study I mentioned, I’m not sure to tell you the truth.

      If I was you, I’d be working on getting out of such a heavy truck REALLY quickly 🙂

      (all that said, it should still “float” a little bit, I assume the cars take a bit to start sinking because of the air inside?)

  2. Next time, try a boat if you want to float!! Stay on the road and don’t drink too much or smoke too much crack etc..

    • I honestly couldn’t tell you because I’ve never tried …

      The author of the study was showing that windows — in general — are easier to break near the b pillar.

  3. Do not use your phone. You should first turn it off and check if the battery compartment is dry before calling 911.

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