How to escape from your car if it gets swept away

Out of all the different kinds of natural disasters that can occur, none is more dangerous than flash floods. That’s right, flash floods kill more people each year over other kinds of disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes.

But the scariest aspect of flash floods isn’t just how devastating and deadly they are, it’s how unpredictable they are as well. Everything can seem to be going perfectly smoothly until a moment later the flooding strikes.

Furthermore, flash floods can happen practically anywhere in the country. Unlike hurricanes or earthquakes that only occur in certain areas, nowhere is free of the risk of a flash flood.

Much of our times each day is also spent in our cars: driving to work, dropping off or picking up the kids from school, running errands, and so on. Since flash floods are hugely unpredictable and will often happen without warning, this means that there is a very realistic chance that a flash flood could happen while you’re driving.

Closed road due to flooding
Closed road due to flooding

You may believe that you’re actually safer in your car than outside of it during a flood, but in reality, the opposite could be true. Did you know that all it takes is a mere one foot of moving water to cause your vehicle to become swept away?

The truth is that a flash flood is dangerous no matter what, regardless of whether you’re inside your vehicle or out of it. So you might be wondering: what should you do if you’re in your car and you find yourself in the middle of a flashflood?

The following tips just may save your life:

Turn around

The first thing you should do when you’re in a car and you see a flashflood, as is probably your instinct, will be to turn around. Even if all you see is a small amount of water up ahead, turning around before more water appears would be the wise thing to do.

At the beginning of this article, we mentioned how flash floods kill more people over any other kind of disaster. Do you want to know why? The reason is that many of those people who have tragically perished could have easily avoided dead had only they had the sense to turn around when the flooding began. Remember, it only takes one foot of water to cause your car to become swept away, so you don’t want to underestimate the flooding at all.

Drive to higher ground

Immediately after turning around in your vehicle, you will want to head to higher ground. Avoid driving under or over bridges or through flooded roads. Keep your radio on so you can receive information from the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards for continuous updates on the situation.

You’ll also want to get in touch with each of your family members to find out where everybody is, and once you get in contact with them, encourage them to immediately seek higher ground as well.

How to escape from your car

But let’s say that the worst happens, and despite your best efforts, your car has been caught in the flooding and is being swept away by the current. Does this mean all hope is lost? Not at all. Yes, getting swept away inside your car is incredibly dangerous and life threatening. Nonetheless, you still have a shot at survival if you know what you need to do in order to escape.

Escaping a flooded car
Escaping a flooded car

The very first thing you need to do is to remain calm. Panicking is the very worst thing you can do and will cause you to make irrational decisions. Inhale and exhale slowly to calm yourself down emotionally. Recognize that you are in a life-or-death situation, and also recognize that there is a way to get out of it.

Next, unbuckle your seatbelt and unlock each of your car doors. Next, lower each of your car windows. These steps may sound contradictory to your safety, but the truth is it will be impossible for you to escape from your vehicle with your seatbelt on and the doors up, especially if the vehicle becomes submerged underwater.

If the windows refuse to lower all the way down, then you will need to break them yourself. Ideally, you should have a glass breaker in your vehicle as part of your car kit, but in case you don’t, use whatever other kind of heavy object you have such as a knife, hammer or screwdriver, computer, or whatever else you can use to batter your way through it. Always aim for the central part of the window rather than the sides.

Car in a storm
Car in a storm

Once your windows have been lowered or broken, water is going to be flowing into your car very quickly. It only takes around sixty seconds for a car fully submerged to become completely filled up with water. This means next few seconds are critical and you will need to act quickly in order to survive.

Since every second counts, do not worry about saving any possessions you have in the car. The lives of you and your passengers (if you have any) are far more important. Pull yourself out of the window of the car, and avoid kicking with your feet until you have completely cleared the vehicle (you could damage your feet or legs by banging them against the car).

Flooded cars in the city
Flooded cars in the city

The moment you reach the surface of the water, you will now have to contend with the powerful flow of the current in addition to the many obstacles and debris that will be in your way. Locate any place of safety that you can swim to, such as a dry area or an area where the water appears to be more shallow, and swim over to it while navigating your way through the various obstacles.

Once you have escaped from the flooding, your next task will be to quickly look yourself over for injuries. Since the adrenaline will be rushing through your body, you may not be able to detect your injuries until you actually see them.

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nick-oetken is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival