In a CBC news item entitled “Angel who pulled teens from car wreckage says he’s no superhero” the public may be rather skeptical when observing the photograph of the collision site where Richard Kirk found a car upside down in a water-filled ditch near Wolfville, Nova Scotia. The description of a hero saving the lives of Alex Pineo and his girlfriend Cassidy Jones might sound a little exaggerated when the photo of the site shows a relatively moderate ditch with an equally moderate level of frozen water.
One also needs to observe the damage to the car as shown below to appreciate the actual, unappreciated danger.
VIEW OF THE DAMAGE TO THE CAR THAT WAS FOUND UPSIDE DOWN IN THE WATER-FILLED DITCH.
While not life-threatening, the damage to the front end of the car suggests this was not a simple, non-event. There would have been sufficient change-in-velocity from this impact that could disorient and perhaps even immobilize an occupant.
Combine this fact with the vehicle being upside down and occupants typically wearing seat-belts. The unfortunate reality is that often occupants have a difficulty removing a seat belt when the weight of the person’s body is pressing on the system. Yes, that is not supposed to happen and testing of the latch system under laboratory conditions is conducted to prevent that: But in the real world it happens especially when the occupant is disoriented and panicked by the need to exit a vehicle as it is being filled with water.
What is also common is that the doors of many collision-involved vehicles are simply difficult to open. Over and over again there are descriptions of various occupants and even professional rescuers having difficulty opening doors. Sometimes these openings need to be made very quickly, especially when there is a developing fire, or if a vehicle has entered into a body of water.
Water and cold are a bad mix. When an occupant cannot escape the interior of a vehicle that is filling with water time becomes a true enemy. Not all rescues are performed within minutes of an occurrence. In fact, many vehicles that enter a body of water do so on low volume roads where the standards of design and maintenance are less than on higher volume roads. Barriers that should normally exist to separate vehicles from bodies of water often do not exist on low volume roads. This often means that potential rescuers may not pass by the accident site too often. If an occupant cannot escape the interior of an overturned vehicle on his/her own then it could mean an extended time being immobile in cold or freezing water. It does not take much imagination to understand that this is a bad mix that can easily lead to death.
Another crucial fact is that, on many lower volume roads the roadside ditches are narrower with steeper embankments. This means that when a vehicle enters such a ditch the sides of the embankments pinch the doors shut and it becomes almost impossible to open the doors without professional help.
The photo of the ditch shown at the top if this article would make many observers question how unsafe it could be when the water level does not appear to be very high and the vehicle would not be fully submerged. How heroic could it be for someone to pull two occupants out a a vehicle in such a shallow body of water? Nothing could be further from the truth. If Richard Kirk had not arrived to pull open the doors of this car, we may have been reporting the deaths of two persons found frozen in a partially submerged car. The danger is under-appreciated yet it exists along far too many roadsides.