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AAA Offers Tips for Surviving Plunge From Memorial Bridge

by ARLnow.com — February 25, 2013 at 6:25 pm 3,283 23 Comments

The aftermath of an SUV that drove off the side of the Memorial Bridge (photo courtesy Mark P.) The aftermath of an SUV that drove off the side of the Memorial Bridge (photo courtesy Mark P.)

Last night, around 10:00 p.m., an SUV somehow crashed through a barrier on the south side of the Memorial Bridge and landed in the Potomac River.

The driver, the SUV’s lone occupant, escaped the watery wreck and was transported to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Charges are now pending against the driver, according to U.S. Park Police spokesman Sgt. Paul Brooks.

If you’ve ever feared making a wrong turn and driving off the side of a bridge, AAA Mid-Atlantic has some potentially helpful tips for you. From a press release:

Although they are considered worst-case scenarios, such crashes rarely happen, safety officials and experts say.  But that’s of little consolation to local drivers when their vehicle suddenly goes deep six or becomes a leaking boat. What you do and how you react within moments of the crash into the abyss will determine whether you live or die in a watery grave, the auto club advises. “Add darkness and near freezing water, and your chances of escape have greatly diminished,” safety experts warns.

“Although less than one-half of one percent of all automobile crashes involves a vehicle being submerged under water, it is still a very frightening situation to motorists and their terrified passengers, especially young children and the elderly,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Previous research shows that between 400 to 600 persons lose their lives each year in the United States, as their vehicles plummet into a canal, river, or a ditch for that matter.”

Annually, almost ten percent of all drowning deaths in the United States can be attributed to being submerged in a car. If children are in the car, the driver or the adult should focus on getting the children out safely first and keeping them from panicking during the petrifying ordeal. In most crashes of this nature, the heaviest end of the deep-sixed vehicle – usually the end with the engine – will begin sinking first, pulling the car down at an angle, notes Popular Mechanic.  That is, unless the water is 15 feet or deeper. In that case, the vehicle may land on its roof, compounding the dangers and risks for the occupants.

Although most vehicles will float for three or four minutes before they start sinking due to the surprising buoyancy of the vehicle in deep water and depending upon on the airtightness of the vehicles, time is still of the essence, advises AAA Mid-Atlantic. The overarching concern is getting to dry land as quickly as possible. Your safety and the lives of your passengers depend upon that.

So, the first key to surviving such a mishap is remaining calm, according to safety experts. Underscoring this, the National Safety Commission puts it this way: “The first and most important thing to remember, if your vehicle is submerged, is to remain CALM – easier said than done-but it’s the most important thing you can do to stay alive.” However, the experts tend to vary on their tips. For example, the brothers Magliozzi, Tom and Ray, of NPR’s “Car Talk” say: “The correct way to get out of a sinking car is to float in the cabin until water is within about 2 inches of the roof. At that time pressure in and outside the car will be equal and it will be easy to open the door and swim out.”

For safety’s sake and to avoid confusion, first responders and the National Safety Commission offer the following tips when your vehicle plunges into the fathoms below:

  • Don’t panic. Once your car hits the water it will not sink immediately (You will have at least one or two minutes before the car begins to sink, safety experts say).
  • If possible, jump out while car is on surface.
  • If your car is still floating, roll down the window and unbuckle your seat belt to escape.
  • If your car is submerged, safety experts suggest remaining buckled up while you break the driver or passenger’s side window to escape.
  • Allow the pressure of the water to equalize inside the sodden vehicle before attempting to open the doors or windows. Water weighs 62.4 lbs. per cubic foot.
  • Move toward rear of vehicle where the air bubble is forming.
  • Water pressure against the water-logged doors will make opening the doors very difficult until the pressure inside of the vehicle and outside of the vehicle are equal.
  • Open your windows to allow yourself and your passengers to escape (Contrary to popular opinion, the “power windows won’t stop working within seconds after impact.” The power can stay on as along as 10 minutes).

The nightmarish crash from the Memorial Bridge is a reminder to motorists of the importance of carrying and keeping a sharp tool, such as a Philips screwdriver or a spring-loaded center punch, in their glove compartment or in the cabin of their vehicle. The tool is a life-saver. Here’s why: it allows you to break the tempered glass to extricate yourself and your passengers from the sinking vehicle. Other salient tips include:

  • If the windows are blocked, try to push the windshield or rear window out with your feet or shoulder.
  • Rescue the children or passengers who need assistance to help them to escape. If children are in the sinking or submerged car, unbuckle their seatbelts and or child passenger seat, starting with the oldest child first.
  • Safeguard the kids. Push the children out of the vehicle ahead of you.
  • Always keep a window-breaking tool in your vehicle in an easily accessible location, safety experts suggest.
  • Remove heavy clothing before attempting to swim to safety.
  • Swim to the surface as safely and quickly as possible (swim in the direction of the current if you’re in deep water).
  • Push off for quick rise to the surface.
  • If you can’t swim try to float. Use your body’s natural buoyancy to float. Make sure to raise your head to breathe.
  • Call for medical attention as quickly as possible.

Ironically, just last week crews from the Federal Highway Administration reportedly began an “extensive inspection of the deck of the iconic 80-year-old Arlington Memorial Bridge, a process that is expected to continue through March 5. In September the 2,163 feet long bridge underwent a two month long renovation, costing $788,375, to repair and replace its entire driving surface.

Photos courtesy Mark P.

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  • Mark Blacknell

    If you’re on a bike? Let go of it, swim for the shore, and then brag to your friends about doing a triathlon.

    • drax

      You have to run a mile to your friends to make it an official triathlon.

  • Aloysious Farquart

    [The overarching concern is getting to dry land as quickly as possible.
    Your safety and the lives of your passengers depend upon that.]

    In other breaking news, water discovered to be wet.

    • Dan

      Not to mention that homo-sapiens do not come equipped from the factory with gills……

  • http://twitter.com/Dezlboy Dezlboy

    Oldie, but Goodie. If Ted Kennedy drove a VW, he’d be President today.

    • drax

      He’d be president today? He’s dead.

      • http://www.facebook.com/nathan.matthews.397 Nathan Matthews

        The president is dead?

        • HistoryDude

          President Kennedy is dead, sadly, yes.

  • bumbletum

    Ah, 17 safety tips to consider after driving off a bridge. I can’t remember where i parked my pick ‘em up truck after eating lunch. I’ll have to print them out and review them whilst hurtling toward the river.

  • geebee

    It took five paragraphs to get to the “first key.” Seems AAA has a budding novelist on its staff.

    • drax

      Not fair – ArlNow wrote the headline, setting up the expectation for the “keys.”

  • FATKIDSPECIAL

    huh? first step is obviously to not be an idiot. maybe it was a medical emergency, but most likely a maryland driver…

    that said the AAA guidlelines are absurdly long and seemingly contradictory. ‘here’s our 8 paragraph, 17 point guide on what to do in an emergency.’ what?

    “If your car is submerged, safety experts suggest remaining buckled up while you break the driver or passenger’s side window to escape.”

    “If children are in the sinking or submerged car, unbuckle their seatbelts and or child passenger seat, starting with the oldest child first.”

    “Move toward rear of vehicle where the air bubble is forming.”

    • Josh S

      I think they had the intern write this thing.

  • Josh S

    What a weird and complete disaster of a press release. If the water is more than 15 feet deep, you’ll land on the roof? Huh?

    “Previous research shows that between 400 to 600 persons lose their lives each year in the United States, as their vehicles plummet into a canal, river, or a ditch for that matter.”

    I’m fairly certain that more than 600 people die in the United States each year. Oh, you mean as a result of drowning after crashing into water? It doesn’t quite say that, does it?

    Etc, etc.

    And what is the whole point of the release? To scare people? To provide advice for something that it supposedly extremely rare?

    “Make sure to raise your head to breathe.” Really? Gee, thanks, AAA.

    • BlueSkies

      Agreed! That went on forever, with lots of extraneous info, and I’m still not sure what to do first if I pliunge off a bridge – open or break out the windows, or wait until pressure equalizes to open the door. The thought’s appreciated, but the execution needs a lot of work to be helpful.

      • Josh S

        Wait until the water is within 2 INCHES of the roof and then swim out. But don’t panic. And get the kids out first. And take off your seatbelt. Except when you should leave your seatbelt on. And if gets dark and you’re in cold water, you’re screwed. And you’ll have 4 minutes on the surface before your car starts to sink. (Not 3, not 5, but 4) Except when you don’t.

    • Doug

      Agree that the press release was awfully written, but I dont think it was pointless to release. How many people die of shark attacks in the US/year? Certainly not 400, but I am sure you would accept safety tips before going to the beach, just in case.

      • sharkie

        There’s a fatal shark attack in the U.S. only once every 3 or 4 years on average. You’re much more likely to drown.

      • Josh S

        Yeah, I guess not totally pointless. But so poorly written as to render it practically meaningless.

  • http://www.dethronethebanksters.com/ LuciferBernanke

    About 580 more people die per year driving off a bridge than are killed by an assault rifle — JUST SAYING lol

    • Josh S

      According to AAA. Sort of. If you can possibly figure out what they actually say in this trainwreck of a press release.

      • http://www.dethronethebanksters.com/ LuciferBernanke

        I’m sure 8 people wrote it, earning a combined annual salary of $1.28 million ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/aattura Azar Attura

    Replace all the water in the Potomac with Froyo

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