Success rate escaping from a sinking car

If you are in a car that goes off the side of a bridge or something, what is the probability that you will be able to escape? How fast does the car sink? How likely are you to be able to break or open the window? For cars with electric windows, do you have to have one of those window-breaking tools?

(Yes, I had a bad dream last night.)

I don’t have an answer to your question, but there is a school in the Netherlands where you can practice underwater car evacuation. They roll an actual car into a diving pool with you in it (and a scuba equipped instructor).

I think that would be an awesome vacation (and might ease your nightmares).

There is. Here’s the Car & Driver story on it. I was the photographer for that story (although the online version doesn’t really have many photographs). Basically, if you don’t panic, it’s not that difficult an escape. It’s the panic that gets you. At the school, they recommended you immediately open the windows, so the cars went down in about 30-45 seconds or so.

Try to watch Mythbusters. They experimented with this a few years ago.

here is a short clip.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFVCC-Hk_ZI

Seconding the recommendation to watch the Mythbusters episode on this. It may not answer all of your questions completely, but it was really interesting.

Mythbusters doesn’t really answer the question at all.

There’s about 10 guys around just waiting to use all kinds of rescue equipment if something goes wrong. That’s not a real life situation.

Chappaquiddick was a real life situation. The TV station A&E did a great special on Chappaquiddick. One thing they looked at was whether an intoxicated, out of shape Ted Kennedy could have driven off the bridge at night into cold water and somehow survived by rolling down the window and swimming out of the car.

They had a professional diver try it and it was clear that Kennedy is his condition could NOT have done it. No way not even close. One only has seconds to get out and the impact of the crash into the water might even knock you out. You should take a look at the photo of the side of the car that hit the water. It looks like it crashed into a brick wall.

The fact is that Mary Jo was alone in the car (behind the wheel) and because of the conditions she was up against, did not survive.

How long do electric windows still work if the car is sinking?

Unfortunately, the best answer I got is “awhile.” From the article:

According to my cousin (a police officer here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes), his experience is that most drivers in a sinking car are intoxicated – usually that’s why their car is sinking.

So that would certainly affect their ability to think clearly and react appropriately.

From reading this thread it seems everyone agrees the easiest way to get out is through the window - what happens to the doors if a car goes underwater? Why couldn’t you just open the door and get out rather than having to roll down the window?

(Why do I have a feeling this is a silly question?)

Because the water is pressing hard against those doors. You have to wait until the compartment is almost entirely full of water before enough pressure releases and allows you to open the doors, and all the while you’re struggling to stay calm, fight against the chill of the water, and probably hold your breath (the remaining air is probably in the back seat if the car is angled nose-down).

Mythbusters tried out one of those automatic window-hammers that are supposed to easily break the car window, even against the force of the water, and it worked great. You just have to hold your breath while the water comes rushing in, and then quickly get out once the inrush has stopped.

Ah, that makes sense. I knew there would be a kinda-obvious answer I was missing! Thanks.

So the point is not that you try to escape out the window with the door closed.

It’s that you try to open the windows so the water gets in quickly so you can then open the door easily & quickly so you can then egress through the open door. Before your limited supply of that one last deep breath gives out.

Yes. In that course, most people ended up panicking and escaping through the window, anyway. The reason being that the door, while it does open easily provided it remains unobstructed in the water, opens a good bit more slowly than in air. So, instead of just swinging open, it will take a couple seconds to open fully. I think only one student (of 6 or 7) at the class I attended had the nerves to escape via the door: most of the students interpreted that resistance as the door not opening and instinct kicked in and they bolted the fastest way they could: through the window.