Safety officials offer tips on what to do if your car runs into water

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JOHNSON COUNTY – A day after the dramatic rescue of a woman from a Johnson County pond, public safety officials are offering advice on what to do if your car runs into an open body of water.

“The most important thing to do, and this can be hard, is to stay calm,” said Bargersville Deputy Fire Chief Mike Pruitt.

As a precaution, Pruitt recommends keeping a spring-loaded window punch in your car. The pointed tools can be used to break a car windshield if it’s necessary to escape a vehicle. There are many different models of window punches that can be found online and at most auto stores. 

Pruitt recommends storing the window punch in a place that’s easy to reach in your car, like a glove box or center console.

“Somewhere where you know it’s at, and it’s going to be,” he said. “So if the car is jolted or rolls to the side like that, it’s not going to get lost.”

Even without a window punch, Pruitt says the first crucial steps to escape are removing your seatbelt, and lowering your windshield. Even though a car’s engine is likely to immediately stall after running into water, most modern electrical systems can keep running in water for a minute or two. Opening your car window can either give you an escape route, or allow water to come into the car so you can open your door.

“What’s holding this door shut is pressure, from the outside water” Pruitt said. “When the water equalizes with the water outside, inside, this door should open. When we open the door, obviously the water is going to come in, but that’s okay, we’re going to get out of the vehicle.”

In cold water situations, like the one in Bargersville Monday, seconds count once the water hits the body. 

Johnson Memorial Emergency Room Director, Dr. Ryan White, says people often gasp involuntarily when they’re exposed to cold water. That can be extremely dangerous if a person is immediately submerged.

“Often times, what happens is you see some of these early drownings because people gasp and they aspirate water,” White said.

Once a person comes in contact with near-freezing water, White says it’s extremely important to stay calm and avoid thrashing around.

“When you’re thrashing in the water like that, your body is actually going to lose more heat because you’re supplying more blood flow to the muscles for those sorts of movements,” he said.

Aside from the shock of the cold, White says a person is likely to experience disorientation and lose feeling and use of extremities. That’s because the body is involuntarily drawing blood and warmth to the core vital organs. 

That’s why quick action is crucial to getting out of the car as soon as possible.

“Typically, your body is going to lose heat about 30 times faster when you’re exposed to water compared to air,” White said.

Depending on the make of the vehicle, a driver could have several minutes of floating before the car begins to sink below the surface, Pruitt said.

“As we saw in an incident yesterday, the car literally floated all the way across the pond to the far bank before it started to sink,” Pruitt said.

As for calling 911 in the car, Pruitt recommends skipping that and focusing solely on getting out of the vehicle first.

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