Imagine driving along peacefully when suddenly your car skids off the road and plunges into a body of water. It’s a terrifying scenario that no one wants to think about, but it’s an experience that some people unfortunately have had to endure. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are approximately 400 to 600 vehicle submersions in the United States every year, and with the vast network of roads and water bodies, it’s a risk that many drivers face.

If you ever find yourself in such a situation, there are vital steps you can take to boost your chances of survival. In this guide, we will explore the key strategies for escaping a submerged car and offer tips for preparing yourself and your vehicle in case you ever find yourself in this frightening predicament.

Preparing For the Unthinkable

Before we delve into the steps for escaping a submerged car, it’s essential to highlight the importance of preparation. While no one plans to drive into a body of water, being ready can make all the difference in a life-threatening situation. Here are a few tips to better prepare yourself and your vehicle:

1. Know Your Surroundings

It’s important to be familiar with the roads you drive on, especially those near bodies of water. Pay attention to warning signs, guardrails, and other indicators that you are near a body of water. Being aware of your surroundings can help you stay vigilant and make quick decisions in an emergency.

2. Keep a Window-Breaking Tool

Consider keeping a window-breaking tool, such as a spring-loaded punch or a rescue tool with a built-in seatbelt cutter, easily accessible in your car. In the event of a submerged vehicle, this tool can be crucial in breaking the window to escape.

3. Practice Calm Under Pressure

While it’s easier said than done, maintaining composure in a high-stress situation can be lifesaving. Practicing deep breathing and remaining focused can help you act more efficiently when faced with a crisis.

4. Communicate Your Route

If you’re traveling through unfamiliar territory or expect to encounter water crossings, inform someone of your route and estimated time of arrival. In the unfortunate event that something happens, this information can be invaluable for rescue efforts.

Vehicle Submersion: The Survival Plan

Despite the unnerving nature of a submersion, there are specific steps you can take to increase your chances of survival. Here’s what to do if your car goes underwater:

Stay Calm and Act Quickly

The moment your car hits the water, it’s crucial to stay calm and act swiftly. Avoid panicking and focus on the next steps to escape.

Unbuckle Your Seatbelt

As soon as you realize that your car is submerging, unbuckle your seatbelt. This will give you the freedom to move and take action.

Open the Window

The next step is to open the window as quickly as possible. Due to the pressure differential, it may be easier to open the window before the car is fully submerged. Electric windows may still work initially, but if they fail, use your window-breaking tool to shatter the glass.

Exit Through the Window

Once the window is open, take a deep breath and exit through the window. Do not attempt to open the door initially, as the pressure from the water could make it nearly impossible to open.

Swim to the Surface

As you exit the vehicle, swim towards the surface as quickly as possible. Resist the urge to go back for belongings or to help others at this stage. It’s crucial to prioritize your own safety.

Call for Help

Once you reach the surface, call for help and signal for assistance. If there are others trapped in the car, or you spot another submerged vehicle with occupants, notify emergency services immediately.

Get Out of the Water

If you're able to swim to shore, do so without delay. Exposure to cold water can lead to hypothermia, so getting yourself out of the water is a top priority.

Additional Safety Measures

In addition to the above survival plan, there are a few extra measures that can help enhance your chances of escaping a submerged car:

Child Safety

If you’re traveling with children, focus on unbuckling their seatbelts and getting them through the window to safety. Children are more vulnerable in such situations, and quick action is vital for their survival.

Vehicle Maintenance

Regular maintenance of your vehicle, including checking the condition of windows, doors, and electrical systems, can mitigate the risk of failures in a critical situation.


Being prepared and knowing what to do in the event of a submerged car can make a life-saving difference in a crisis. While the thought of such an experience is unnerving, understanding the steps for escape and taking necessary precautions can give you a sense of control and readiness. Remember, staying calm and acting quickly are paramount in a life-or-death scenario. By equipping yourself with knowledge and the right tools, you can boost your chances of survival and, hopefully, avoid ever having to face such a terrifying situation.

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