This tool saved an NJ woman in a sinking car. Here’s how to use it — and why it doesn’t always work. – NJ.com | Hot Mobile Press

For a driver or passenger, there is possibly nothing more terrifying than the thought of being trapped in a vehicle that is slowly sinking into the water.

This nightmarish scenario played out on the Delaware and Raritan Canal in Somerset County last week, but luckily there was a happy ending.

A 23-year-old woman who accidentally drove her car into the canal around 11pm on Thursday used a “window breaking tool” to smash one of her car windows and free herself after calling 9-1-1 and getting out of the car a Franklin Township consulted police officers.

She then got out of the car and swam to the east bank of the canal, escaping with minor injuries while her sinking car drifted north, Franklin Township Police Sgt. Vincent Wilson said.

The incident put the spotlight on window-breaking tools — usually small plastic and metal mallets that typically cost $15 or less — and the Franklin Township Police Director suggested all drivers stash one in their cars.

The tools are designed to easily break a vehicle’s windows if someone is trapped inside. However, window break-in tools don’t always work in every vehicle, experts warn.

In a study on window-breaking tools published three years ago, the motoring advocacy group AAA estimated that in 2017 there were 7,900 accidents in the US in which a vehicle was partially or fully submerged in water. When a vehicle sinks in water, doors and windows sometimes malfunction or won’t open, and motorists have to force a side window.

AAA’s 2019 study found that only 4 out of 6 tools tested — three hammer-style tools and three with spring-loaded mechanisms — were able to shatter tempered glass side windows. But none broke through laminated glass side windows, which remained intact even after being cracked by the tool, the study found.

About one in three vehicles made in 2018 had laminated side windows, which are stronger and much more difficult to break, AAA said. In contrast, tempered glass usually breaks into small pieces when shattered.

“To improve safety, more vehicles are being fitted with laminated side windows — but most also have at least one tempered glass window,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of automotive engineering and repair, following the 2019 story.

“Our research has found that escape tools can generally be effective in an emergency, but only if drivers know what type of side windows they have, otherwise they could waste precious seconds breaking glass that doesn’t break,” said Nielson.

Motorists need to check the specifications of their cars to determine if windows are laminated glass. AAA recommends checking your vehicle’s manual or manufacturer’s website.

Franklin Police said they have no information about the type of window the motorist broke in her escape, nor do they know the specific brand of tool she used.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not endorse or require window breaking tools.

Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for AAA Northeast, said the Lifehammer brand safety hammer is “probably the most popular” tool among motorists.

It costs $14.95 on Amazon and, according to the product description, is a double-sided, hardened-steel hammer head “for easily breaking non-laminated side car windows.” It includes a sharp knife for cutting seat belts and a holster for easy retrieval in an emergency.

However, there are also several similar window breaking tools on the market.

Sinclair emphasized the importance of knowing where a window breaking tool is and where to attach it in the vehicle so it doesn’t fly off and be fatal in a crash.

AAA made additional recommendations in its 2019 study, including avoiding tools with additional features like lights or chargers. The study also found that when a vehicle is submerged, a hammer-style rescue tool is significantly more difficult to swing underwater and may not be effective.

Drivers should know the type of glass – tempered or laminated – on all windows in their vehicles. If the car has at least one tempered window, that’s the best exit point in an emergency, according to AAA.

AAA reiterated that “standard escape tools do not break laminated glass.”

Sinclair also noted that a vehicle’s windshield is often “laminated for safety” and the window-breaking tool doesn’t work. While many rear windows are not made of laminated glass, it would be easier for motorists to shatter unlaminated side windows if they had to flee.

“Better the one closest to you,” Sinclair said.

Here are some other tips from the 2019 study:

  • AAA recommends drivers choose a window-breaking tool that they are “comfortable to use”, have tested, and have easy access to in an emergency. To make sure it works properly, test the tool on a softer surface such as a carpet. B. a piece of soft wood. The tool works when the tip hits the surface and leaves a small indentation in the material.
  • Plan an exit strategy when you need to escape from the car and share it with everyone in the vehicle. AAA also recommends having a backup plan in case the window break tool cannot be used or is not working.
  • If the car sinks in water as soon as a window is opened or smashed, the water will flow into the car faster, AAA notes.
  • If a window cannot be opened or broken because it is laminated, the driver and front passenger should go to the rear of the vehicle or to where there is an air pocket. Remain in the air pocket until all air has exited the vehicle. Once that happens, the pressure should equalize, making it easier for occupants to open a door and escape, notes AAA.

Last week’s incident in the Delaware and Raritan channel remains under investigation by the Franklin Township Police Department, officials said.

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Rob Jennings can be reached at rjennings@njadvancemedia.com.

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