This isn't about distracted driving.
Amy Stiner, 37, of Machias, Maine and Melissa Moyer, 38, visiting from Pennsylvania went hiking in Roque Bluffs State Park early in the evening and got lost and called for help on a cell phone. A landowner found them and brought them to his house, where a park warden picked them up and then drove them to Ms. Stiner's parked minivan. By this time it was nine P.M. and rainy and foggy and instead of turning left on the road back to Machias, she mistakenly turned right toward the park boat ramp.
Washington County got an urgent call from a women that her car was filling up with water and then the connection went dead. GPS coordinates placed the call as coming from the area of the ramp, but it took an hour to locate the dark colored van because it was submerged in twenty feet of water sixty yards out and couldn't be seen from the shore.
Divers found the car, with the women and dog, dead, inside with the windows up and the doors closed. Stiner was five months pregnant.
Something like this happens more than four hundred times each year in the United States. People drown in their cars and many of them could avoid death, but they have to act quickly. Check the time in the video below. Both men and the baby are out in twenty seconds, though I think the fake baby's head gets thumped a couple times on the way out.
First thing you do is put away the cell phone. Gordon Giesbrecht, of the University of Manitoba, in an article for Popular Mechanics, said "Time is critical. If you touch your cell phone you're probably going to die." Good advice. You have seconds to act and any help you may find at the other end of the cell tower, is, at best, five minutes away.
The steps according to Dr. Popsicle (Giesbrecht) are:
1. SEATBELT. Yours. Unlatch it as soon as you hit the water.
2. WINDOW. Yours. Open it because this will be your exit from the vehicle. Do this before water pressure jams it closed. Break the window if it won't open. You can pick a different window if strong current is pushing on the driver side of the car. Moon roofs make a good escape hatch.
3. CHILD. Unbuckle the child.
4. OUT. Time to get out. Push the child ahead of you out the window and swim to shore.
Here are a few tools that will easily break tempered side and rear glass in a car. Two of them have a blade for cutting seat belt straps, if they jam, or it might be faster to cut a child's car seat straps than try to undo them.
|metal workers center punch $3|
|hammer style glass breaker $6|
|ResQme tool Keychain $ ???|
|close view of ResQme tool, center punch point to break glass.|
Here is another video of car-in-water escapes with Dr. Giesbrecht: Rick Mercer and Dr. Popsicle show you how to escape a car in a lake
So after watching the videos you can understand what happened to Ms. Stiner and her friend. Water stalled the engine so they couldn't just throw the transmission in reverse and back up out of danger. Water pressure, kept the doors from opening and they didn't even consider the windows--almost nobody does-- until there is too much pressure on them, or the opening mechanism is shorted out.
Besides, opening a window is counter-intuitive. You want to keep the water out of the car, not welcome it in. Opening a window makes as much sense as bailing water from the sea and dumping it in the boat. But intuition doesn't serve you well in this instance. Your car is not water-tight. You are not trying to keep it afloat. Your goal is to abandon ship. It will sink in two minutes or less and If you don't get a door or window open, and get out, you will die.
One of the women, if she acted fast enough, might have clambered behind the passenger seat and popped open the side sliding door before it, too, was jammed with water pressure. But that didn't happen. They probably, at some point, hammered on the windows with fists as the water rose but without a tool of some kind that wouldn't have shattered the glass.
Stiner dialed 911 and the car kept rolling down the ramp into deeper water but the call was cut short. It was a van, so their last best chance at escaping was to climb over the seats to the cargo area and try to open the rear hatch. That end of the vehicle would not have been submerged, yet. The car would be nose down, almost vertical, and there would be air to breathe back there and no water pressing on the hatch.
It would be natural to flee that direction from the rising water, but Stiner was five months pregnant and it was dark and both women and the dog would be panicky and frantic and we don't know if there were other obstacles like boxes or luggage in the way, and time was running out. For all we know from the news reports, they may have drowned still strapped to their seats.
I've never been in a dire car-in-the-drink emergency. But I've driven across bridges over water and I've driven near lakes and streams and rivers and boat ramps and docks. I've navigated flooded roadways and big puddles and have even ended up in a few ditches. So you never know.
I've got a center punch in my work van. I actually bought it to mark some sheet metal for drilling. But I have it now on the front console by the radio. I'm going to get one of those ResQme tools for the Subaru and I'm going to dangle both from the rear view mirrors where I can find them in an emergency.