This morning I woke up with something very sad on my mind. It's weird where my mind can take me in those early waking moments, and obviously this has been sitting on my subconscious mind and waiting for an opportunity to be explored.
During the recent floods associated with Cyclone Debbie, a car slid down an embankment and into a river resulting in the drowning deaths of a mother and two of her three children. One escaped and ran for help, but alas nothing could be done to save the others. I saw a short snippet of the funeral broadcast on the news and watched the bereaved remainder of this little family; father and 8 year old daughter. The sense of loss was unbearable, unspeakable, unimaginable.
Since them some articles have circulated on Facebook about the need for a plan to get out of a vehicle quickly when it lands in water. The suggested protocol would be 1. Undo seat-belts 2. Open windows 3. Help children out, the older ones first. It's good to have a sense of what is the best and right way to go about attempting an escape should the need arise... and in saying that, I don't mean to make light of it for a moment. This is the thing that must have been playing on my mind as I slept or as I came to this morning.
What I felt as I lay there was the sense of urgency. I don't think I'll have any peace until I share this and let it go to take flight. So here are my thoughts. I hope you will add to them and share them until something is done. Or give me some hints about where I could take this next.
I imagined sliding into a river or waterway. I imagined that loss of control of the vehicle. I imagined the downward slope as the heavy motor took the front of the car deeper and I imagined the force of gravity working against me as I tried to remove my own seat-belt and that of my children. Having lived on a sailing boat for some time, I am well aware of the difficulty of moving about in a situation where things are not on the level. Can you imagine trying to get to your children in the back seat as gravity is putting all your weight first against your seat-belt making it difficult to undo it and then having to fight that pull to try and scramble into a position where you could undo those belts and set your babies free. They might be heavy against their seat-belts too and perhaps struggling with their distress.
I imagined the impossibility of it all. I don't know how that one little girl managed to get out of the car but somehow, I'm guessing with her mother's help, or under her mother's instruction, she found her way out. Imagine the panic as the water level is rising and the seat-belt clip refuses to release. In a crash situation it might be the thing that saves a child but in this case perhaps it was the thing that caused people to die. Just consider how very difficult it might be to get out in a hurry.
I woke and my mind was grappling with what needs to happen to give people more time in those situations. I know it probably doesn't happen all that often, but with a potential increase in extreme weather events, it could happen more often in the future. So car manufacturers, this is a call to you to start looking at accessories you can design that will help to slow the submersion of a vehicle in such a situation in order to give people a bit more time to get out.
One idea that came to mind was an inflatable device (similar to airbags) that might neutralise the weight of the engine, allowing the vehicle to float upright for longer. Another was enough positive buoyancy built into the structure of the vehicle so it would not sink. Another was for some downward thrust to counter the effects of the weight of the engine, perhaps in some kind of canisters that could be easily activated. Keeping the vehicle level in the water might make it easier to get out. And finally, the installation of a weatherproof deck-hatch (similar to those on boats) in the roof of the vehicle to act as an escape hatch; it would be easier to go up rather than out the side perhaps. It might be something that could be engineered to fit existing vehicles and might not be too expensive to install.
I wondered to myself if Dick Smith or Richard Branson or even our David Walsh here in Tasmania might be willing to put up some money to encourage designers to come up with something effective and affordable to help avoid these tragedies in the future.
Well, that was my morning. I think it's important to talk about this. Maybe it will save lives in the future. I'd love to hear your ideas - please put them in the comments. Please share this as I hope it might get to someone who will take it further and maybe create something that will really help.
Here is an ABCnews video about how to get out of a sinking car. There are others online if you look. You will see the value in trying to extend the time people have. There is no time to think if you are not already prepared.