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My name is Archie Allan.
On June 17th 2006, the eve of Fathers Day, I accidentally drove my car into the Chester River in Maryland. My experience was terrifying. I survived literally “by the grace of God”.
These events led me on a mission to educate the public about vehicle water immersion and entrapment and to provide information, techniques, tools and accessories that could someday save your life!

Hopefully, you will never end up in a situation like mine. However, you may be shocked to know that annually over 10,000 people are involved in water immersion auto accidents. Most of them survive. Unfortunately, each year more than three hundred people become trapped in their cars under water and experience a terrifying death. I assure you, on that Saturday evening I never thought that my car would end up in a river with me inside. The good news is that if you are prepared, your chances of surviving a water immersion accident are extremely good.

I can tell you first hand that when your vehicle enters the water it is usually a smooth entry. The water cushions the blow. My air bags did not deploy. In fact it was very similar to entering the water in a log plume at an amusement park. Most people survive the initial impact with minimal or no injury at all. What you do during the next minute will determine whether or not you will survive.

Once your car has entered water it usually takes between two and ten minutes for it to sink. This may occur more quickly, however, depending on the speed, angle of entry and the physical characteristics of the vehicle. If you remain relatively calm there should be enough time for you to take action to save your life and the lives of your passengers.

My personal experience took me approximately 15 seconds to exit the car. I would have been fine, but if you’ve read my story you know that I made a serious mistake. I re-entered the vehicle to retrieve my shoes, wallet and briefcase. It almost cost me my life. Unless there is another person in the car that you are trying to save, you should never go back into a sinking or submerged vehicle. There is nothing, short of saving another person that is worth the risk.

You and your passengers need to focus on one goal only and that is “to exit the car as quickly as possible”.
There are five basic steps you should take to escape from a sinking vehicle:

  1. Stay calm
2. Open the window(s)
3. Unfasten your seatbelt
4. Exit through the window
5. Swim to safety
 

Some survival scenarios I have studied recommend unfastening your seatbelt prior to taking any other action. After careful research and my own personal experience I recommend that you first open the window(s) and then remove your seatbelt. The primary reason for doing so is that the window opening is your best escape hatch and should be your first line of exit. When your car hits the water the electric motors that operate the windows will soon become inoperative due to water immersion. You may have only a few seconds to get the windows down and this should be your first priority.

It is impractical and a waste of precious time and effort to attempt to open a car door in a vehicle that has just entered the water. Once even the lower part of the door is under water (which usually happens immediately upon entering the water) it is almost impossible to open. This is due to the water pressure exerted on the exterior of the door.

There have been studies done by Survival Systems USA, a Groton Connecticut company specializing in aviation and marine safety and survival training. They note that once a vehicle sinks it may turn sideways or upside down. Occupants who are not buckled in with a seat belt will float within the vehicle and can easily become disoriented. It then becomes extremely difficult for them to find the windows or door handles. They believe that if you remain in your seated position (as you will if your seatbelt remains fastened) you will retain your orientation regardless of what position the vehicle is in.

A “last resort” exit strategy may require that you wait until the car fills with water (which will equalize the pressure on the doors) then open the door. Remaining fastened in your seatbelt will give you the leverage necessary to push the door open. Again, this technique is a last resort. More on this later.

Whether you should put your window(s) down first or unfasten your seatbelt first is debatable. In most cases it becomes a moot point as long as you act quickly and do both of these actions within the first few seconds after your vehicle hits the water. Remember, your primary goal is to exit the car through the window as quickly as possible.

In my situation the electrical system in my car went haywire. I had re-entered the car through the open driver’s side window. While I was sitting in the passenger seat, chest high in water putting on my shoes, the window automatically went up. Then the doors locked, the power shut off and I was trapped in the car. I thought I could break a window by kicking it. I assure you I was fighting for my life but no matter how hard I kicked the window would not break. If you cannot open your window you have two remaining options.

 
Option 1: Break the window. This is usually the best option but unless you have a specialized tool used to shatter a car window, it is easier said than done. Automotive windows are made of tempered glass which is extremely strong. I am six feet tall and weigh 180 pounds. I kicked at the rear driver’s side window with all my might until I was completely exhausted. Amazingly, I kicked so hard that the exterior steel window frame bent out about a quarter of an inch on both sides, but the glass would not break.

If you have a window shattering tool, use it to break either the side or rear window to escape. Do not attempt to break the front windshield as it is laminated and almost impossible to break. If you do not have a specialized tool use any sharp or pointed object you can find to try to break the window. Aim for a corner of the window (not the center) and strike it with as much force as possible. A metal flashlight, knife, screw driver, seatbelt buckle or whatever you can find may break the glass. However, tempered glass is extremely strong and it is very difficult to break even with a traditional hammer. It takes a concentrated force against a very small area of the glass to shatter it.

LifeHammer  and ResQMe  can save your life!

There are small, inexpensive, and convenient-to-carry tools available to the public that are made specifically to shatter a car window to free a trapped victim. I have researched many of these. I have found two of them to be of consistently high quality, easy to use, inexpensive, and do what you need them to do in an emergency. They both perform two functions. They will easily cut through a jammed seatbelt and shatter a side or rear car window.

One is called a LifeHammer. It is only 7 ½ inches in length and weighs 4.9 ounces. It is shaped like a small hammer but with a dual conical shaped hardened steel point at one end. A strike with medium force will shatter a side window. I had my 10 year old daughter try it and she broke the window on the first try. The LifeHammer also has a seatbelt cutter built into the other end. The LifeHammer should be mounted in the vehicle either on the side of the console or anywhere it can be easily reached in an emergency. You can view one by clicking anywhere you see the word “LifeHammer”.

The other tool is called ResQMe. It performs the same functions as the LifeHammer but it is only 3 inches long, weights just over ½ oz. and easily attaches to your keychain. One advantage of ResQMe is that it can go with you wherever you go as long as you have your keys. You can view one by clicking anywhere you see the word “ResQMe”. The Life Hammer is a little more robust and can be used to clear out some of the shattered glass once the window is broken. I keep ResQMe on my key chain and a LifeHammer in my car.

Whether you are in a sinking car or in a dry land accident trapped with your car on fire and smoke entering the cabin, these tools can save your life. The side and back windows of most cars will shatter when struck with either of these tools. Do not attempt to break the front windshield. It is laminated which makes it extremely difficult to break. Be aware that some vehicles may have laminated side windows.

 
Option 2: Open the door. If the windows will not open and you are unable to break them you may be able to exit through a door. You will first have to wait until the car is filled with water so that the pressure on both sides of the door equalizes. Make sure the door is unlocked. Just before the vehicle is completely filled with water take a deep breath. Once it is full the door should be able to be opened. Remove your seatbelt and exit the car.

Remember, your primary goal is to get yourself and your passengers out of the car as quickly as possible. The window is usually your best escape route. Staying in a sinking vehicle is a recipe for disaster.

Stay calm, open window, unfasten seatbelt, exit window, swim to safety.

  Five Steps to Escape a Sinking Car  
  1. Stay calm. Take a deep breath then take charge of the situation. Your life (and that of others in your vehicle) will depend on it.
2. Open the window(s). Tell all passengers to do the same or open theirs from your console. If your car is in a swift moving current open the window(s) on the side opposite the water flow direction. This will minimize water rushing in and it will be easier to exit. In strong currents exiting through a sun roof may be your best option.
3. Unfasten your seatbelt. If possible keep one hand on the open window ledge as a point of reference. As the car begins to sink it may roll over and this will help keep you oriented.
4. Exit through the window(s). If there are children or others less able in the car, if possible help them out and then exit immediately.
5. Swim to safety. If you are under water and not sure which direction to swim, allow a few air bubbles to escape your mouth and follow them toward the surface.
 

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