According to insurance and automotive groups, more than 11,000 accidents occur each year in which a vehicle ends up in the water. An estimated 300 people drown each year in their car or truck, many of them needlessly.
Emergency personnel often conduct drills on water rescue techniques, but most experts say that if a driver wants to survive a crash into water, it is up to him or her to have a plan.
The most important thing is stay calm, according to Jason Morss, a firefighter/paramedic with the Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue Department in southern Florida.
"Staying calm absolutely is the number one priority," Morss says. "Once you lose that control you pretty much lose everything else."
In most water crashes, a vehicle will float for a period of time before the weight of the engine pulls the vehicle under. This should allow the driver enough time to calmly follow the procedures that can get him out alive.
"When things go wrong under water, there's not time for any second chances," says Morss. "You have one brief opportunity to get the seatbelt off and get either the window down or the door open and get out of the vehicle."
Following is the procedure Morss and other safety experts recommend following if your car should crash into water:
Unbuckle your seatbelt. The first thing to do after impact is unbuckle your seatbelt. Try to open a window. As the vehicle begins to fill with water, the first exit to try is through a window. Don't worry if the window is electric: experts say power windows usually keep working under water for some time. If the windshield shatters, use that as an exit. If you can't open a window, wait to open the door. When a vehicle enters the water, it can be hard to open the door because of the water pressure pushing on it from outside. If you can't open a window, calmly wait for the water level inside the car to rise so the pressure equalizes and you can open the door. Get a child out first. If you are with a child, get them out of their car seat and push them through the window or door. Then get out yourself and follow them to the surface.