Escape Tip

Escape Tip is an inherently obvious automotive safety idea. The purpose of the Escape Tip is to provide all occupants of a vehicle the means to break a side window glass if needed. This technique is suggested by every credible safety expert in the field when asked how to escape a sinking vehicle. The Escape Tip is a slight modification to the standard automotive seatbelt latchplate. If made available in all new cars, death by vehicle immersion and entrapment will be significantly reduced.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Susan Koeppen; If only I could have gotten to her sooner...

The link at the bottom will take you to a CBS story on vehicle immersion drowning. I’m sorry that I did not find it sooner. CBS credited a reporter named Smith with the story so I did not see it under Susan Koeppen’s name in Contributors section of the CBS Morning Show’s web page. I had heard that Ms. Koeppen was doing a story, but, I was unable to reach her in time to make a difference. Twisted irony that so many people continue to die because we are too late to make a difference. We were only made aware of the fact that the story had already aired recently. This story is poignant because Ms. Koeppen does a great job of showing the terror and panic that can overcome a person as she actually experienced the sensation firsthand in an elaborate aircraft simulator.


· The first time the reporter is immersed in water, panic obviously takes over. She’s still moving and fighting, just not effectively. Since she’s trapped, her mind seems to lose focus as to what to do next. She seems to know that she has to pull herself out, it’s just that when she realizes she can’t she seems to freeze. At that instant, she was living a terror that precedes three hundred deaths a year. Ms. Koeppens’s reaction here is completely normal. Experts tell us that during times when a person encounters the stresses of a serious danger, and especially when it’s for the first time, they are the least likely to effectively deal with those stresses and dangers. In these instances instinct takes over if no other training intercedes in their thought process. A person’s “fight or flight” reflex backed with adrenaline kicks in and can help them battle their way to the best possible outcome. In the case of vehicle immersion incidents that best possible outcome is making it to the surface. The only thing standing in their way in these cases are the windows and seatbelts restraining them. Our opinion is that used correctly, this natural function of the bodies Sympathetic Response System which is part of the Autonomic Nervous System can be utilized in a positive way. If people unlatch their seatbelt immediately after the main impetus of the accident is over and smash the window (which experts say is an action that is intuitively obvious) venting an escape route as soon as is practical, climbing out is a primitive instinct.
· The reporter cannot operate the seatbelt her first time down. This is important because for the vast majority of drivers and occupants of a vehicle that experience this type of accident, it will be their first time. The stakes are life and death. I find it odd that even though Ms. Koeppen was stuck and admitted that without the divers she was in trouble, she reports exactly what her expert said which is that it is best to leave the seatbelt on. Despite her own experience, she reports this without questioning it. It is Egression technologies’ opinion that the "keep the Seatbelt on" advice is rarely, if ever, the best idea in civilian accidents for several reasons.
1. Most experienced rescue experts in the country say to pop the belt first. Only a small minority of training professionals seem to clouding the issue with the stay strapped in idea
2. Unlike professional soldiers and pilots that train and train, for the average person this life and death scenario will happen without a dress rehearsal and without warning. A person free from any restraint in the car is ready to leave or be rescued. Keeping them strapped in under water invites disaster.
3. Cars have relatively small windows and comparatively large cabins. Anyone who has ever held a soda bottle under water can attest that water only goes in at a rate that matches the rate in which air escapes. This observable fact dramatically shows that the water flow is greatly restricted by the relatively small opening. In the small number of case that water floods in, it’s over in a split second as the cabin has a limited volume and pressure equalizes quickly.
4. Leaving the seatbelt strapped on so that water will not jostle an occupant as it comes in implies that a person is waiting for the vehicle to get to a point that this situation is applicable. The latest advice coming out of rescue camps is get unbuckled and get out quickly breaking the glass if necessary. Their irreproachable logic is that you are closer to the surface, closer to the shore, and closer to your point of entry which is where any potential rescuers are likely to congregate.
5. The risk of panic, disorientation, minimal lighting and the inability to operate a seatbelt under stress all outweigh the minor benefits of keeping it on. Top Florida firefighters tell us again and again the stories of finding people that have died strapped in by their seatbelts with the windows down. NBC Dateline featured this phenomenon in a story that they did a few years ago. The message is clear. Get the seatbelt off right away. Sharon Stone had the fright of her life and vowed to put escape hammers in all of her vehicles. She went on to say she thinks some type of device should me mandated in all vehicles.

One thing to keep in mind watching this story is that Ms. Koeppen went to a pilot training center for advice on how to help an average citizen survive this type of automobile accident. I applaud the effort and much of the information but wish that in the course of researching her story, she’d had the opportunity to come across Egression Technologies and the Escape Tip. Here, all we deal with is auto accidents causing entrapment and the ramifications therein. Pilots train for this type of accident. They are people cut from a different cloth. The people that train them have a perspective on automobile accidents that is just a little different than the rescue divers, police officers, and fire fighters that we talk to. We converse with the professionals in the trenches that for five decades have been recovering the bodies of victims that have drowned trapped inside their vehicles. Their advice is, and continues to be, POGO Pop the seatbelt. Open the door or window (This is where the Escape Tip comes in. The Escape Tip used correctly WILL open the window.) Get Out. (Remember the KISS theory, Keep*It*Simple*Stupid)

Reporters across the country continue to lead with the hammer when doing these types of stories. If they could only find the Escape Tip in their research before they go on the air, we could show them the way to really make people safer. The hammer is to immersion safety what the Model T was to transportation. It was a great first step. Today we simply know how to do it better;

1. Build the tool into the vehicle so that every car has one
2. Insure that the seatbelt is off before the tool is utilized to break the glass so a person can leave immediately. (Susan’s reaction to being dunked the first time is all the proof you need that being held back by a belt spells danger)
3. make sure there are enough tools for everyone not just one person in the front seat (would any car manufacturer really want to start installing between two and ten of these hammers in their décor or simply change the design of the already installed seatbelt?)
4. make it easy to find
5. make it hard to remove or misplace
6. Make it so that if you fumble it, it doesn’t fall all the way to the floor or under a seat.
7. put the tool in the same location in all vehicle makes and models so that people have the maximum chance to save their own life
8. Make the tool operate the same way in all vehicle makes and models so that people have the maximum chance to save their own life

There are more reasons but you get the idea. It is obvious by the list above, that there is a viable solution to the immersion drowning problem. It mirrors the FMVSS 401 the trunk latch release standard in that it is a simple, cheap, easy to use and a sensible solution. The two devices share reason one and reasons four through eight from the list above. FMVSS 401 sets the standard which we continue to chase in our effort to make vehicles safer.

I’ll keep trying to reach reporters before they file immersion drowning stories as I’m sure, that faced with the obviousness of the information that we present, any quality reporter that is interested in truth rather than any other consideration will tell this story. With luck, one will finally break this story on a national basis. Hopefully, it will be someone intelligent with conviction that will really get the point across. That is what captures people’s interest and makes government act. Unfortunately, this mythical reporter probably could have been Susan Koeppen if only I could have gotten our information to her or her producer before she reported on this danger. She seems bright, concerned and as a mother, I would think she’d want to help actually help fix this problem rather that just perform for ratings by showing the country another dunk and danger piece. We all know that there are already enough reporters out there that fit this bill.

Keep in mind moving forward, that the thousands of hours of research that we’ve put together as well as the police and fire officials that we have interviewed give us a unique perspective on vehicle immersion accidents. It’s quite possible that we have more insight and information on this unique type of accident than any other private entity in the world. It is an absolute shame because of our relatively small size and limited exposure that these news agencies can’t seem to find us to fine tune the information that they are giving the public. It is a reality check to realize that since Susan Koeppen’s story, over seventy five people have died trapped in their vehicles. Maybe the next Susan Koeppen will find us before they post a story or just maybe Susan Koeppen will find us and post again with a story that can help enact change.

Please watch the video. It’s only four minutes long.

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About Me

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Vehicle submersion accidents kill people nearly every day. I'm on a quest to make automobiles just a little safer. For the last decade, NHTSA (National Highway Traffic safety Administration) has been keeping extensive records as to the causes and outcomes of traffic accidents on this nation's roads. In that time, an average of 300 people have drowned each year trapped in their vehicles underwater. My friends and I want to change that by giving people a fighting chance to survive. I hope that you'll read more here and at the website