Vehicle Submersion

Vehicle Submersion Quick Facts:


To exit through the side windows


Average time until vehicle submersion


Average arrival time for emergency services

A Preventable Global Problem

Vehicle submersion claims tens of thousands of lives every year – including many children – with at least 500 fatalities annually in the US alone. These incidents occur when water rises against the doors and side windows, trapping passengers inside. Today, the only way to survive is to know what to do and act quickly: Seatbelts Off, Windows Open, Out Immediately, Children First (SWOC).

Exit Through the Windows

When a car sinks, every second counts. Water pressure locks doors in place, and opening them accelerates water ingress. To escape, you must exit through the side windows before water reaches them. Time is scarce, with occupants having less than a minute to act.

Manual Tools Don’t Break Laminate Windows

Manual tools, like hammers and center punches, cannot break laminate windows according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). In recognition of these safety risks, Euro NCAP and ANCAP introduced new safety ratings for car makers to address vehicle submersion by 2023. 

Automatic Window Opening is Essential for Fastest Exit Assistance

In a sinking car, every second counts, especially if there are children involved. Often, people don’t know what to do, and panic only makes things worse. That’s why cars need systems that act fast—they should automatically open windows, give clear instructions, and call for help. AWOS does just that. It detects when a car is sinking, opens the windows, and triggers onboard emergency services dispatching systems. AWOS acts as a lifeline, providing essential assistance for occupants to exit the vehicle safely.

How AWOS Works

How it Works

What To Do In A Sinking Car

Speed is key – you have less than 1 minute to escape! Know what to do to save your life. 

Steps to take: SWOC

  • Seatbelts off
  • Windows open
  • Out immediately
  • Children first

Avoid Common Mistakes

  • Only call for help when everyone is out
  • Don’t open the doors
  • Don’t wait for water to fill the car 
  • Manual tools can’t break laminate windows
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Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht - Leading Authority on Vehicle Submersion. Founder of Operation Alive.

It’s not just large bodies of water like lakes, rivers, canals and coastlines.

Life-threatening emergencies happen anywhere water can trap you in your car

Submerged car being towed out of a large body of water

Large Water Bodies

Accidents can result in cars entering large bodies of water like rivers, lakes, canals, or ponds. Common causes include driving off a bridge, driving off a boat or exit ramp, collisions, loss of control, hydroplaning and poor visibility in fog, snow, or torrential rain.

Floods and Flash Floods

Floods and flash floods pose significant danger. Just 6 inches of water can cause most vehicles to lose control or stall. 12 inches of water can sweep away cars, 2 feet can sweep away SUVs & trucks.

Flash floods catch drivers off guard, with swift water making it impossible to control a floating car. Underpasses and low water crossings can quickly turn into deadly traps due to limited visibility and hidden underwater dangers.


Sinkholes can pose unexpected threats to vehicle occupants. What at first appears as shallow water on a road’s surface can actually hide a much deeper safety risk whereby a car can get sucked into the sinkhole.