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, August 09, 2007

Common Sense Should Prevail

Pop belt - Open Window - Get Out

Florida leads the country in immersion drowning deaths. Their Highway Patrol and Dade County's Fire and Rescue point to the number of bodies that they have recovered in submerged vehicles belted in and window down as a good reason to take your seatbelt off first.
They have had this up on their website since 2001.

On this webpage, there is a video from a Florida news team where the reporter is completely briefed on how to exit a submerged vehicle still forgets his belt and has to be rescued. I’ve seen others. The reason is simple. People are people. Treating a housewife or accountant or bartender like a fighter pilot or police officer is not prudent. Let me explain. For the average person, going into the water in a car is going to come as a complete shock. At best, they’ve seen a news piece on it or read a story in a paper or magazine. Pilots and cops have been trained for this scenario. Joe and Jolene Average is best served by taking into account that their instincts are likely to be stronger than their intellect for the duration of this ordeal. Mr. or Ms. Professional will transition into a response ingrained by training might do well enough venting the water first to survive, fighting a potential gasp reflex, then undoing their belt and making their way out of a vehicle. For The Average family, this is not a good idea.
In my humble opinion, the best way for people to survive a vehicle immersion accident is to have a short, concise plan that they know how to put into action the instant the vehicle hits the water. Reminding someone to stay calm after their car has just careened into water may not be the best use of an action item. (the fewer steps that this plan has, the better it is according to university research)

POGO is real simple. A 2006 study by the University of Winnipeg reaffirms its efficacy and wisdom. During this study, the researchers performed nearly forty repetitions of a vehicle immersion and researched as much history from around the world on this issue as they could. Their conclusions were published in a comprehensive report that blamed some vehicle immersion deaths on multiple issues including; the mish mash of information available, the widely distributed advice to wait until the car fills with water (which as it turns out doesn’t work) the idea to use a cell to call for help, having a glass break device in a bad location, and there were other reasons as well. His full report suggests keeping glass break devices in obvious places in cars and using them immediately. On this page is a brief synopsis of some of his views Item 1 has a small blurb.

Here are some explanations of my views of a solution to this dangerous problem.

First, you should immediately unlatch your seatbelt and insure that everyone in the car does the same. Some experts disagree with me here. Their argument is that water coming into the cabin will toss you around the vehicle. They sometimes base their opinion on demonstrations done with huge aircraft water submersion trainers and the techniques taught to our nation’s military aviators and law enforcement professionals. Sometimes they are just accepting and forwarding what they heard thus dispensing their own conjecture. In reality, the average passenger car will take on less than 1000 cubic feet of water when completely full. The design of a car means that when the driver side window is displaced, Water will cascade over the top of the height of the body of the door and literally fall into the lap of the driver. In effect, the first few hundred gallons of water that enters the car will pin the driver in their seat. Then the flow will slow slightly until the car fills completely. The process will be quick but not too violent due to the relatively small amount of water needed to fill the compartment, the relatively small space the water must occupy, and the seats transmission humps, and other irregularities inside a vehicle interior that impede the smooth flow of water. At issue here is that the shape and characteristics of a car with a single side window missing is more akin to a soda bottle being held under water and filling up than a flower vase being held under water and filling up. A car, like a bottle, has to let air out of the same opening that water is rushing into. In relation to the size of the interior space of the vehicles passenger compartment, the opening provided by the window is small. This has a slight constricting effect on the amount of volume that can pass either direction (this is important because as water tries to get in, air is trying to escape.

Numerous videos show that the rate at which water enters the vehicle and the duration that it flows is not overwhelming at its worst. A vase has a large opening and when placed under water it fills immediately and with a large rush of water. This rush of water is the "picture" that some experts want to paint but it simply is not so. The last reason that the seatbelt comes off first is not so obvious. When the water hits you, you have a relatively small chance of experiencing a gasp reflex and aspirating water. In a second, you may be choking. In other scenarios the water may increase a sense of panic, still other immersion victims mah lose track of their conscious directives and start acting on instinct. (stranger things have happened when people face peril. In an instant a person is covered in water they want to, and should be leaving, not messing with a seatbelt. If for any reason, even if they are not choking, terrified, or drawing a complete mental blank, if the belt does not easily unlatch, then the true meaning of panic would be immediately apparent.

One individual actually made up his own acronym SOS GO even though POGO had been the accepted standard for quite some time. During all the chaos that currently surrounds defining the correct procedure to exit an immersed vehicle, this clunky and hard to remember acronym only served to add to the confusion (remember here that Dr. Giesbrecht’s research shows that confusion serves to get people killed also that his research clearly shows that popping the seatbelt first is the superior methodology). The only further thing I think that is worth mentioning about SOS GO if I have not been clear up to this point is that it advocates taking your belt off after breaking the window. I think you know my feelings on this. In the process he's trying to displace the standard POGO Pop Belt, Open window, Get Out. That has been the standard for years (remember the Florida firefighters and the people they find still buckled in with the windows down).

Although not mentioned here, there are some people that still advocate trying to open a door. This is not a good idea. The car will fill quickly with water causing it to sink too quickly. This is especially true if other people are in the car. A review of accidents over the past few decades illustrates that it is common for one person to get out and others to perish trapped in the vehicle. Parents have been implicated in killing their children because they got out first and could not get back in to save their kids. I wonder if the deck was stacked against them? Pressure differential could cause the door to close, trapping people inside or trapping loose clothing or hair. The now flooded vehicle is heading toward the bottom with these poor souls being taken along for the ride.

Did I mention that I feel you should pop your seatbelt, smash the side window, and get out of the vehicle as soon as possible and before the car goes under water. Speed is the key.

Some people report ad-nauseum that the electronic windows should work for a time after the car enters the water. Pinning your hopes to this idea will work for many people. For others, it may prove a death sentence. If the battery fails while the window is in mid travel, you now have a moderate volume pathway for water to enter the vehicle but an opening too small for the majority of occupants to exit safely. Ask every manufacturer to guarantee that their windows will continue to operate under water. Not a single yes will be forthcoming. The military spends a great deal of money and effort trying to isolate their electronics from water. The reason is simple; dirty water (water with any impurities) acts as a comprehensive conductor usually making an exposed circuit path invalid and usually defeating any switching properties of said circuit. Water dissipates the efficiency of a circuit and torque cannot be developed by an affected motor since an induction field can not form. When this occurs, said motor useless.

Many people still talk about the need to equalize pressure by letting the vehicle fill as a way making the door easy to open. Equalize the pressure is a last resort move. It does not always work; it exposes the occupant to peril and provides the least chance of success of surviving an immersion accident. In a way it's like CPR. It doesn't really work all that well but by this point, it's all we got left. Watch this Top gear video to see what I mean.
Other videos that I have seen, accident information that I've recorded, and reports that I've read, demonstrate that this tactic is wrought with danger. One needs to remember here that cars are full of air and because water has greater pressure than air, it will be difficult to open the door. Many still insist that as a primary tactic, one should let the car sink to equalize air and water pressure, it is thought that at this point, one should be able to open up the door or window. Should be able to, is still not good enough since over 16,000 people have died this way since 1960. Keep in mind that if there was ever an accident where Murphy and his laws will be waiting at every turn, a car crash into water has to qualify.

On TV, a safety expert checks with the safety divers, and the "victim before lowering a vehicle into the water at about .5 miles an hour. In real life it happens at 40 miles an hour in the blink of an eye. On TV, the vehicle is tested to insure the windows and doors work. In real life an impact with a guard rail deforms the door so the window can’t roll down all the way, or the fuse box blows. TV demonstrations are usually done in daylight at the docks. Real life accidents can happen at night in the tall reeds of a swamp. TV demos have rescue personnel standing by. Real life accidents require a seven minute response from the local responders and fifteen minutes to suit up for diver safety. TV reporters often do the exercise several times before they finally get it right. In real life, this is a PASS / FAIL or better put, PASS or DIE exam.

In the end, the best practice is to get free of all constraints and don’t encumber yourself with new constraints on the way out. Popping your belt, smashing your window and getting out gives you the best chance for success. It works the quickest which in the Canadian study directly correlates with success. In my opinion, every vehicle should have at least some simple glass break tools in all rows and they should be accessible to both sides of the vehicle. What if you were trapped in a car on fire and getting out on one side was better than the other? What if debris blocked one path? I’m ready to hear any and all opinions.

Thank you.

1 comment:

fab5mommy said...

A community near us lost a mother and 3 daughters in a car submersion accident involving a retention pond. It was at night in the winter, and the mother was able to call 911. They were found in the car with the windows up, and died of hypothermia later at the hospital. The article in our local newspaper concerned me because the advice given by our state police and scuba team did not mesh with what I had heard in the past. They dispelled what they called myths including that the power windows would not work, and insisted that they would work. Never did they suggest carrying something to break the window with. They also suggested opening the window first. After doing some searching online I found a study done by the Netherlands in response to an accident where 3 police officers were trapped in there car and were unable to get out, even with people standing all around. They sited one gentleman who survived a submersion accident and said that his doors automatically locked when he hit the water (as did the officers) and though his lights were on the windows did not work. He survied in part because he was a mechanic and knew to hit the corner of the windshield to break it and get out (a side window would have been easier). According to this study they recommend carrying a hammer of some sort in an obvious spot to break the windows in emergencies. The officers had such a hammer, required in the Netherlands, but didn't use it. I think the POGO acrynym is such a good idea because people panic in emergencies even when the tools are there, and they need a process to follow. I am going to pass this information on the the local paper. Thank you for such good and well thought out advice.

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