The Kidwell Family for Safety * * * Our Mission: Saving lives through awareness and training

Get Out Alive!

You Can Survive a Vehicle Immersion Accident

Remember these Simple Steps

  • Release Seatbelt(s).
  • Open or break windows.
  • Free children (oldest to youngest) from restraints and move them close to an adult who can assist in their escape.
  • Get Out—children should be helped out of the window first.
  • Follow immediately, climb atop the car and then call for help or get to shore.

Did You Know?

  • Vehicle submersion carries one of the highest mortality rates of any type of single-vehicle accident.
  • More than 10,000 vehicles accidentally drive into US waterways every year.
  • An average of 400 drivers and/or passengers in those vehicles drown.
  • The majority of those 400 victims would have survived the crash had it not resulted in submersion.
  • Victims have a short, but adequate time (30 seconds to 2 minutes) to escape before water reaches the side windows, if they have the proper equipment and knowledge at hand.
  • Rarely are rescue crews able to get to the scene quickly enough to save victims.
  • Victims often drown in their own neighborhoods—in retention ponds and other recreational and/or flood-preventive waterways.
  • The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) has tracked submersion fatalities for many years. These statistics remain relatively constant year after year and little is being done to prevent these fatalities. Recently, NHTSA has revised the methodology for tracking vehicle immersion accidents. As a result, there are approximately 100 more fatalities per year than previously estimated. These figures do not include off-road accidents.

Try to imagine: 

An individual in a submerging vehicle has mere seconds to react, and the process must be simple and easy to remember. Most people panic, including reporters who have tried to demonstrate the process, even after a training session and with rescue staff standing by.


In June of 2007, 17-year-old Trey Kidwell and his friend Rob found themselves on an unfamiliar county road in Indiana. While Rob texted his mother for directions, Trey rounded a curve and screamed as his car plunged into a state-park lake. They were on a county road, but what they did not know was that this particular road became a boat ramp, without warning, and had been the scene of two previous accidents resulting in deaths. They also did not know how to escape from a sinking vehicle. Breaking the door handle, Rob managed to escape. But Trey, a strong swimmer, drowned as his car filled with murky water and sank to the bottom of the lake. That day in June had been Trey’s first day at his summer lifeguarding job; it was the last day of his life. Trey is my son’s only child, the light of his life. Trey is my grandson. Trey is dead.


Trey is one of approximately 400 people who drowned in 2007 because they could not escape their sinking vehicles. Trey—and the others—are not just statistics. They would have survived if they had known that the most effective method of escape is to get out immediately—through a window. To avoid panic, the escape procedure must be simple, quick, and easy to remember

There are numerous articles, professional studies, victims’ stories, statistics and other materials from around the world that support these findings. For example:

  • In 2008, University of Manitoba professor Gordon Giesbrecht completed an extensive study of escape strategies from sinking cars—using real cars and real people. His study has proven that, “The best time to escape from a vehicle is immediately during the initial floating phase.” In March of 2013, Dr. Giesbrecht conducted a training session for the Collier County (FL) Sheriff's Office Dive Team.  
  • In the Netherlands, the (former) Transport Safety Board (2002) recommends that the whole Dutch population, and not only driving license holders, be told about the risks of a car ending up in water and the possibilities of escaping. The Board advocates a life-hammer being present in each vehicle so that occupants can smash a (side) window in order to escape.
  • The Indiana State Police Dive Team, led by Master Diver Robert May, has thoroughly studied this issue and has conducted a successful escape exercise in which a car was driven into an Indianapolis reservoir. Three divers and a doll (to simulate a baby in a car seat) were able to escape through the windows in approximately 20 seconds, climb atop the car and call for help. The car stayed afloat for another two minutes.
  • The Dade County (Florida) Fire and Rescue Department, The Phoenix (Arizona) Firefighter’s Union, Lonny MacDougall of, and many other concerned groups and individuals have researched this issue and agree that immediate escape is crucial to survival.
It is our mission to inform everyone of the proper procedure for escaping a sinking vehicle. This procedure can also be useful in other types of entrapment accidents, and it is easy to learn and remember. In addition, each vehicle should be equipped with a window-breaking tool that can be used in case the windows will not open easily. There are several models of inexpensive hand-held devices on the market.


The procedure and the device are simple, but educating those who are unaware, and dispelling the myths that flood the Internet and other media resources are major projects. Currently, information that is available via the Internet is either confusing or downright incorrect and dangerous. The ordinary Internet end-user often assumes that most information on the web is useful and accurate. It is impossible to correct each inaccurate method individually. I’ve tried! 

If everyone works together to educate the public in this simple and effective escape method, we will save lives. If we convince the media to promote only the safest and most effective escape method, we will touch the lives of millions of potential victims. Ideally, we will bring knowledge of this problem and the solution through an international awareness program that includes training sessions, written materials as well as video and professional presentations by experts in this field.

Mary Kay Kidwell,
Mar 21, 2013, 4:03 PM