A car might be the last place you would expect to drown, but recent studies found car-crash drownings in Florida to be alarmingly common. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an average of 57 riders drown in their vehicles each year, accounting for 2.1% of annual Florida auto accident fatalities overall.
In fact, the Sunshine State leads the country in the number of auto-accident drownings each year, beating out second- and third- place contenders Texas and Indiana by a landslide. Research finds that these accidents are focused in South Florida, with Palm Beach County, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties claiming the highest number of auto-drowning deaths.
The Reasons Behind Florida Auto-Crash Deaths
There are many factors that contribute to this type of accident. For one, Florida outshines other states in terms of miles of water-front roads, with lengthy stretches running alongside both natural and man-made bodies of water. Oftentimes, roadside canals do not have sufficient barriers to prevent wayward vehicles from falling in if they crash into them because of an accident or malfunctioning bakes.
Once cars are in the water, passengers have mere moments to escape the vehicle before it fills with water. Automobiles also often flip upside down when in the water, making escape particularly difficult. Stuck doors, broken seat belts, and malfunctioning windows can also become a deadly challenge.
How to Escape If Your Car Takes a Plunge
Crashing your car into water can be a terrifying and potentially deadly experience. Keeping calm and acting quickly are both key to your survival. If you find yourself submerged in water, here are steps to a quick and successful escape.
Keep calm. Keeping yourself and other passengers calm is the most important thing you can do in the event of a water crash. Too often, passengers in the vehicle fail to escape because of panic, which wastes valuable energy and air.
Time is precious. Research indicates that a vehicle will float for anywhere between 30 and 120 seconds, giving passengers a limited window for escape. Don’t waste time by calling 911 until you’re out of the vehicle. It’s completely possible to escape within 30 seconds, but you must remain calm and concentrate on what you are doing.
Unbuckle your seatbelt. Wearing a seatbelt is vital to surviving the impact of the crash. Once you’ve crashed, however, you need to unbuckle your seatbelt immediately to allow for the freedom of movement necessary for escape.
Roll down the window. Opening the door will be incredibly difficult against the water pressure, and it can speed up the sinking process by letting water into the compartment. If you can, roll down the window instead. You should be able to do this even if the window is electric—experts say power windows often work under water for some time.
If you can’t roll down the window, break it. Once the water rises to the bottom of the windows, the pressure will prevent you from rolling them down. When this happens, break a window with a sturdy object or tool—if you use your bare hands, you can get seriously cut.
Help children first. Smaller passengers will have a more difficult time escaping against the strong rush of water, so you may have to give them a push.
Swim out as fast as you can. After everyone is out, push off of the car to swim to safety as fast as you can. To figure out where the surface is, follow the direction of the bubbles.
Hold your breath. If you can’t break or open the window, calmly hold your breath and wait for the water to fill the car so the pressure equalizes. Once this happens, you should be able to open the door.
Prepare yourself beforehand with an emergency kit. You should always keep an emergency kit in your car to protect you and your family in the event of disaster. The kit should be easily accessible at all times—not in the trunk. A small hammer or spring punch can be vital to your escape in the event of a water crash.
Even the most responsible and experienced driver runs the risk of crashing into water in Florida, where canals, ponds, and coastlines abound. A careless or drunk driver could collide into you and force you off the road, or a roadway hazard might force you to swerve unexpectedly into a body of water.
If you’ve been a victim of a water auto accident due to a negligent driver or unsafe road conditions, you should contact an experienced auto accident attorney immediately. A skilled lawyer will make sure you receive just compensation, which can support you and your family’s medical treatment and long-term recovery. You will also increase awareness of our state’s serious problem with car-crash accidents and drownings, encouraging others to take measures towards fixing this grave issue.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphy. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”