My Car is Sinking: Lessons in Vehicle Escape Exposed

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The article “My Car is Sinking: Automobile Submersion, Lessons in Vehicle Escape”—published in Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine online ahead of print with free download and MP4 video clip--explains how to escape from a sinking car and the need for better public education.

Solidify the early escape plan in your mind and discuss it with your family. You now have a course of action that may save your life

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What would you do if your car ran into a lake? Wait until it was completely full of water? Call 911? That could waste valuable seconds and leave you little hope of survival. You need to have a plan already rehearsed in your mind. In the article, “My Car is Sinking: Automobile Submersion, Lessons in Vehicle Escape” the authors, Gordon Giesbrecht, Ph.D., and Gerren McDonald, M.Sc., answer this question—and just may save your life. The article is published in the August 2010 issue of Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine (the official journal of the Aerospace Medical Association) and is available for free download:

In North America alone, nearly 400 people die yearly in vehicle submersions, accounting for 5–11% of all drownings. In their research study, using trained volunteers and child manikins in cars submersed into a lake, Giesbrecht and McDonald identified three phases of vehicle submersion: Floating, Sinking, and Submerged. They demonstrated that it is easiest to escape during that first “Floating” phase,” when time is on your side. Waiting to open a door/window during the “Sinking” phase may be difficult due to the water pressure, and will increase the sinking rate as water pours in. You should NOT wait until the vehicle is “Submerged” and full of water to try to open a door or window. In the Submerged phase you truly may have only one chance to complete an escape after taking a “last available breath.” You should escape the vehicle immediately, and forget about calling 911 on your cell phone. You have 30-60 seconds to escape, not minutes to use making a call! The authors suggest the following simple easy to remember escape procedure:     SEATBELT(s)—unfasten immediately;     WINDOWS—open;     Children (if present)—release from restraints and place near the open window;     OUT—push children out first, then you follow. Opening electronic windows may be a problem because the electronic control systems often fail upon water exposure. If electronics fail, the side window (not the windshield) must be broken. Have a window-breaking device, like a spring-loaded center punch or an escape hammer, mounted visibly in the passenger compartment for quick access. You do not want to be looking for the device under the seat, or in the glove box, or having the device tossed around the vehicle because of loose storage. Additionally, it is exceptionally important for adults to become completely familiar, in advance, with how to release child seat restraints rapidly and to pass any child out the window prior to exit.
The authors further suggest that public education focus on immediate self-rescue through side windows during the Floating Phase. First responder (fire/police/public) protocols should be developed specifically for vehicle submersion cases, in which the first responder directs the trapped victims to open or break the windows, and exit the vehicle as quickly as possible.

Solidify the early escape plan in your mind and discuss it with your family. You now have a course of action that may save your life!
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MP4 Video clip (supplemental data):
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Jeff Sventek
703-739-2240, x105    
Executive Director, AsMA        

Gordon Giesbrecht, Ph.D.              

  • * * * * * * About the Aerospace Medical Association     The Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA) is the largest international professional organization in the fields of aviation, space, and environmental medicine. The AsMA provides a framework for multiple disciplines to share their clinical and research expertise. AsMA’s membership includes aerospace medicine specialists, flight nurses, physiologists, psychologists, human factors specialists, and other related professionals. Their affiliations include industry, civil aviation regulatory agencies, departments of defense and military services, the airlines, space programs, and universities. Approximately 25% of the membership is international. The Association has provided its expertise to a multitude of Federal and international agencies on a broad range of issues including; aviation and space medical standards, H1N1 and international travel, and the physiological stresses of flight. Through the diligent efforts of the AsMA members, safety in flight and man’s overall adaptation to adverse environments has been greatly advanced.

About Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine         The journal was founded as the Journal of Aviation Medicine in 1930 by Louis H. Bauer, M.D. It is published monthly by the Aerospace Medical Association, a non-profit organization of physicians, physiologists, psychologists, nurses, engineers, and other professionals working to solve the problems of human existence and performance in challenging environments. The original scientific articles in this journal provide the latest available information on investigations into such areas as: changes in ambient pressure, motion sickness, increased or decreased gravitational forces, thermal stresses, vision, fatigue, circadian rhythms, psychological stress, artificial environments, predictors of success, health maintenance, human factors engineering, clinical care, and others. This journal also publishes commentary on scientific news and technical items of interest, and provides teaching material and reviews for health care professionals.


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