I have to apologize in advance. I know that this comment will be lengthy.
I have been witness to over a thousand stories similar to yours. It
has done nothing but sharpen my resolve. I reiterate that this
commentary will be a little lengthy but I can never tell if the next
time I tell this story, it will be the spark that initiates a small
change that could make a big difference.
July 3, 1929, Blanche and Russell Warren are traveling on a road that
is now U.S. 101 in their 1927 Chevrolet. The Warrens went missing
that day. No one knew at the time, that they had gone into a nearby
lake in their 1927 Chevrolet. Perhaps they missed a curve or fell
asleep. They were not found for 72 years. I have discovered in my
research many stories that tell of bodies found underwater inside
vehicles days, weeks, months, years, and even decades after they went
missing. Cory Erving, the son of NBA basketball legend Julius Erving,
AKA ?Dr. J? went missing for six weeks in the summer of 2000 after
leaving the family home to purchase a loaf of bread. Cory?s
disappearance prompted all kinds of speculation including kidnapping
theories. The Erving family offered rewards for his safe return or
information of his whereabouts. Cory?s body was found in his car
under water on July 6th of that year. http://obits.com/ervingcory.html
In 1961 a study conducted by the Michigan State police and Indiana
University concluded that 400 people a year died trapped in their
vehicles under water in North America. It has been 45 years since
that story. The numbers remain about the same year after year.
Online, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA,
posts statistics it collects through its Fatality Analysis Reporting
System or FARS website. Currently available online is data dating
back to 1994. According to FARS, since 1994, an average of 300 people
have died due to vehicle immersion drowning in this country every
year. All tolled, in North America, every year for the past forty
years, more than 300 people a year have perished trapped in their cars
It is apparent, that since the passenger compartment of the automobile
was first enclosed, tens of thousands of people worldwide have died
because they couldn?t escape their vehicle as it slipped beneath the
surface of a lake, or river, or canal, or swimming pool or any body of
water that will allow a vehicle to completely submerge. In many
unfortunate situations, people have drowned in water that they could
stand in. Florida holds the distinction of having more vehicle
immersion deaths than any other state in the country. A recent news
article featured the Delray Beach Fire Department?s Water Rescue Team.
In the story, the reporter noted that since its inception in 1988,
the team has responded to around 15 calls a year where a car is
completely submerged in water with someone trapped inside. In 2006
the first person was pulled out alive. This stark detail shows that
it is nearly impossible for emergency services to get to an accident
of this nature in time to save a life. The responsibility to get out
must lie with the occupants of the vehicle.
The sad part of all of this is that there is an abundance of available
evidence that readily establishes that this is an extremely survivable
accident most of the time. In higher speed accidents where a vehicle
goes into the water, the vehicle bears the brunt of any impact in a
way that isolates the occupants from serious injury. The water
decelerates said vehicle instead of causing an abrupt stop. Occupants
are often very fit to enact their own self rescue. As it turns out,
this is a surprisingly simple procedure. Exit the vehicle and swim to
safety. The one thing that is sure to prevent success is the
inability to exit the vehicle.
Interestingly enough, in a surprising number of cases, vehicles enter
the water at a relatively low speed. These accidents are sometimes
the result of people making a wrong decision to enter a body of water,
making a wrong turn, putting a vehicle in the wrong gear or other
reasons that cause relatively benign, trauma free accidents.
Regardless of the methodology that puts a vehicle in the water, it is
well established that a high number of these vehicle immersion
accidents are survivable due to the number of people that are seen
trying to escape entrapment by beating on the glass. These stories
are often shared again and again by witnesses that are incapable of
helping. Another survivability indicator is the percentage of bodies
that are found in the very back part of the vehicle. This is relevant
because in most cases an engine pushes the front end of the vehicle
down which causes an air bubble to rise and settle toward the now
elevated rear of the vehicle. People that can?t break out of the
sinking car follow the air pocket until it is all gone or polluted to
the point that it can no longer sustain life. Few people realize that
fluids in the engine compartment that are lighter than water make
their way into the passenger compartment through holes in the
floorboard making the air unbreathable.
Despite the previous two explanations, the main reason that we know
with absolute certainty, that in most cases this is a survivable
accident is the fact that an estimated ten thousand vehicles a year
end up in the water. Other than the approximately three hundred
tragedies a year where the victims die, everyone else survives. It
appears that the main difference between the people that live and
those that die is an occupant?s ability to exit a vehicle.
Technology has lead to some painful consequences regarding vehicle
immersion drowning. In all too many recent accidents, people have had
time to call loved ones or rescue services on their cell phone. The
calls have run the gamut from remorseful farewells from people that
have conceded their fate knowing full well that no one can get there
in time to hysterical pleading from people terrified of the fate that
they realize awaits them. One interesting call from a KCBS radio
reporter from San Francisco named Doug Sovern went unanswered for
nearly twenty minutes. Doug, while sinking ever further into the
water was put on hold. As water filled the passenger compartment,
Doug listened to a recording. Doug?s call was to 911. In the end, he
found a resource that allowed him to save himself
http://www.escapetip.blogspot.com/ (scroll down to ?Against all Odds?)
He got out by breaking the glass.
Over the years, I?ve documented the deaths of infants to seniors,
ordinary people to government officials. I?ve recorded anomalies like
the family that stopped to look at the lake Susan Smith used to drown
her children only to roll into the water themselves, become trapped,
and die. Some stories touched me like the one about a young United
States Marine named Ryan Zimmerman who was just going to be at home on
leave for a few days over the holidays. This homecoming turned out to
be his last http://www.escapetip.blogspot.com (scroll down to the
story that features his name in the title.) A story of Sharon Stone?s
near tragedy on the set of a movie, reminded me that no one is immune.
My thoughts sometimes wander to the loss of a Doctor named Karen
Gilhooly from Michigan. Karen was driving her daughter along with two
of the child?s dearest friends to a dance performance. In the dark of
night she made one wrong turn and slipped into the water. She was
probably traveling a five miles an hour as she entered the water. Too
late she realized something was wrong and tried to back out. We know
this because her car was recovered with the transmission in reverse.
Three families shattered because of a right turn when she needed a
left. I can only imagine happenings inside the car as the realization
set in that nothing could be done. Like so many accidents that I have
chronicled, this was not the first vehicle submersion death at this
In the years that I have been doing this, I have seen a full spectrum
of ideas to combat this problem. In Florida, tens of millions of
dollars are being spent to erect barriers to stop this problem. Since
the barriers have been going up, I still record stories of death in
Florida. I?ve seen where a vehicle went over the barrier and ended up
in the water anyway as well as vehicles that went into the water in
locations where no barriers stand. Barriers are expensive,
restrictive, ugly and present a false sense of security. There is no
doubt that they will save lives but at what cost?
I?ve seen all kinds of ideas for new and improved systems to be added
to vehicles to combat this issue. One system suggested huge airbags
deploy to keep the vehicle afloat. A second system that I had to
question was one that rolled all of the windows down if a vehicle was
submerging. I had to wonder what a parent with several kids would do
as water came rushing in and their kids were strapped through three
rows of a minivan. I?ve seen automatic this, and automatic that and
new and improved this and new and improved that and on, and on, and
Looking at many of these solutions, I am reminded of the space shuttle
program. The best of intentions, billions of dollars in the world?s
most sophisticated equipment, and a legacy marred by an ?O? ring
costing a few bucks. I?m reminded of the Crown Victoria. This car
had a single weakness exposed do to the fact that when used for police
work, cars are sometime rear ended at high speed causing violent
crashes that in these cases ignited fuel. I?m reminded that sometimes
ferry doors don?t seal causing them to flood and the boat sinks. I?m
reminded that engines are known to fall of airplanes on occasion and
even in modern warfare there are still friendly fire incidents. All
this leads anyone like me with average intelligence to conclude that
despite the very best of intentions, systems sometimes fail. In an
automobile, if the failed system is a luxury like air conditioning,
the result is an inconvenience. If a safety system fails, it could
spell a trip to the hospital or morgue.
In the end, It has amazed me that a simple, practical, effective,
inexpensive way to give people that are ready and able to break out of
a vehicle, the means to do so has been so thoroughly disregarded. I?m
confounded that a solution that could be immediately made available to
start saving lives has been ignored while experts strain to perfect
systems that would cost markedly more money.
The solution that I talk about is called the Escape Tip?. It is a
tiny, unobtrusive addition to the male end or latch plate of a
seatbelt assembly. In hundreds of tests, several performed under the
watchful eye of television news coverage, the Escape Tip? has not
failed once. www.escapetip.com (click on the videos on the main page.)
This straightforward idea conforms to a wisdom hard gained over the
years that if you want something done right, do it yourself.
Statistics prove beyond all doubt that this is especially applicable
in vehicle immersion accidents. How many people truly want to put
their faith 100% into an automatic system to save their lives without
at least a solid back up that allows them to get themselves out if
?all else fails?. Most drivers trust their steel belted radial tires
but still keep a spare ?just in case?. At a hotel, I always take an
elevator when I want to get up to my room and down to the lobby and
yet I really appreciate the fact that the stairs are there ?just in
case?. Airborne soldiers can go their whole jump career deploying
only the main parachute but, they all wear the reserve ?just in case?
Who can deny that the KISS theory or Keep It Simple Stupid is based on
years and years of trial and error? I think that the Escape Tip? is a
simple, effective, and inexpensive proposition for a problem that has
proven a persistent killer for more than half a century. I think that
pushing the envelope of auto safety is a good idea and yet a little
voice in the back of my head tells me that at the same time it would
be prudent to provide an ?all else fails? backup ?just in case?.
Some of the many benefits of the Escape Tip? system include:
? Providing all people from the front seats to the back seats,
that are trapped in vehicles with the means to break a side window and
exit through the opening, when, and only when, they are ready.
? Providing access to the necessary tools at all seating
positions affording redundancy as well as an escape option for all
? Providing the tools in known and consistent locations within
all Escape Tip® Equipped? vehicles.
? Passengers are not dependant upon access to the glove box,
or other driver oriented locations, where an automotive hammer or
other tool might be stored.
? The Tools can not become lost or misplaced in vehicle
? Occupants? seatbelts must be removed before the Tools can be
used This insures that they are free to exit as soon as the window is
? The Tools are already in the hands of trapped occupants and
ready for use after simply taking off their seatbelts.
? Providing a means of exit when a vehicle?s doors are
inoperable, due to an accident, power failure or other incident.
? Providing a means of exit when a vehicle?s rear doors are
locked via the child safety locks, which are currently mandated in all
new passenger vehicles.
? Using the product is simple, nearly fail safe, and you can
use it again immediately if you do not succeed on the first attempt.
? The Tools can?t ?go off? accidentally or prematurely.
? The Tools do not interfere with normal operation of the seatbelts.
? The Tools are simple to manufacture with no moving parts.
? The Tools have very nominal manufacturing costs.
? The Tools will save lives.