Escaping a sinking vehicle

diagram of a car sinking and best exit strategy 

Vehicles can become trapped in deep water for various reasons, typically from misjudging a situation or through simple human error. For example, attempting to cross a heavily flooded road, or accidentally pressing down on the accelerator near a body of water such as a lake or river.

While the chances of this occurring are relatively low, it's important to be aware of the steps that should be taken to escape from a sinking vehicle. Even if it doesn’t happen to you, you may be present at the scene of someone else in trouble.

When a vehicle enters the water, it may settle on the surface for a short period of time and every attempt should be made to get out of the vehicle during this time.

There is a long-held myth about letting the vehicle fill with water before attempting to open the doors. However, there is not likely to be a significant air pocket remaining and the risk of drowning is extremely high.

A car will start to sink engine first, and the water pressure on the doors of the car will prevent them from being opened. If the windows are still closed as the water starts pushing against them, they likely won’t be operational and the person inside the vehicle will be trapped.

How to escape from a sinking car

steps for escaping from a sinking car


  • Unfasten all seatbelts immediately.

  • Open the windows. Electric windows should still work for a limited amount of time, at least 10 to 60 seconds.

  • Climb out through the windows. While the car is still afloat, try to climb out of a window or sunroof. Help children or others who may need assistance out first, then follow them.


If you are a bystander in this situation, communicate these steps to the occupants of the vehicle as best you can without endangering yourself or others. Remember to look after your own safety first – do not attempt to physically rescue the victims if it is unsafe in any way. Call for help and wait for emergency services personnel to arrive.

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