What we can learn from Baltimore about road safety near water



Key Bridge

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The nation has been focused Baltimore Bridge disaster as new details emerge. A cargo ship hit the Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing it to collapse. Six people died in the water below, and one of the nation’s busiest ports is closed as a result of the collision. 

Also in recent weeks was the water submersion death of entrepreneur Angela Chau, a shipping industry executive and the sister-in-law of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who died after her car was submerged in a pond at night, leaving her unable to escape.

These high-profile incidents shine a light on auto safety in the industry, underscoring the vital need for vigilance and preparedness. They also highlight the unpredictable dangers of road travel, underscoring the vital need for vigilance and preparedness.

Real estate agents, who are often working from their cars, should take this as a call to action. Vehicle safety practices are more important than ever, especially for agents who live and work near large bodies of water and bridges.

Below, we’ll look at some of the risks driving near bodies of water pose, how to prevent them and what you can do if you experience a disaster.

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Here are the major dangers and how to equip yourself with prevention tactics.  

Bridge failures

The risk: Older bridges can have structural deficiencies that cause them to partially or fully give way without warning if their weight limits are exceeded. Or, as in the Baltimore Bridge situation, a vessel can strike it, causing it to collapse.

Prevention: Always obey posted bridge weight (and height) limits and warnings. Be alert and drive carefully over bridges, looking for visible damage, such as cracks. Pay attention to any sign of distress. In the Baltimore situation, authorities stopped additional vehicles from traveling on the bridge.

Flash floods and flooded roads

The risk: Low-lying roads near bodies of water can quickly become submerged after heavy rains or storm surges.

The prevention: Avoid driving through standing water when possible. As little as 6 inches can cause you to lose control of the vehicle.

Vehicles plunging into water

The risk: A wrong turn or collision near water can easily send your car into a deep, choppy lake or river.

The prevention: Be alert when driving at night, especially in unfamiliar areas. Use Google Maps to map your destination, and learn of any bodies of water. Keep your headlights clean and clear. If your vehicle goes into the water, act quickly but calmly. Open windows to allow air entry, then exit and call for help.

Post-storm debris

The risk: Severe storms, such as hurricanes, tornados and flash flooding, often litter roads and bridges with fallen trees, giant branches and other debris hazards.

The prevention: Drive slowly. Keep your eyes peeled far ahead, and leave plenty of room and time to steer around road obstructions to avoid sudden swerving safely.

Safety tools for your vehicle:

It’s always smart to have a safety kit in your car. When it comes to water safety, here’s what you need:

  •  A dry waterproof bag allows you to store emergency supplies, such as LED road flares, ponchos, snacks and water in a waterproof way. It must be accessible in the glove compartment, console storage, door pocket or under the seat.
  •  A life hammer, auto escape glass breaking tool with a spring-loaded steel spike. They are designed to break tempered side window glass (not windshields) to provide an emergency exit if doors are jammed. It must be stored near the driver’s seat. There can be additional units throughout the vehicle for passengers.
  • Accessible floatation devices and/or life jackets, similar to airplane safety tools, must be self-inflating when triggered.

Vehicle submersion safety from Operation ALIVE

Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, Ph.D., from the University of Manitoba, created Operation ALIVE, a teaching initiative regarding water submersion incidents. This initiative underscores a vital yet often overlooked risk: vehicle submersion. 

Statistical overview: Operation ALIVE brings to light that approximately 400 North Americans perish annually in submerged vehicles, which translates to 5-11 percent of all drowning incidents.

Survival window: Although a vehicle may float for up to three minutes post-submersion, the optimal timeframe for escape is within the first minute, marking a critical period for action rather than panic.

Immediate actions: The SWOC protocol:

  • Seatbelts: Immediately remove seatbelts to free yourself and any passengers.
  • Windows: If the vehicle’s electrical system fails, manually open or break the windows as an escape route.
  • Out: Exit the vehicle promptly through the windows to avoid being trapped.
  • Children: Ensure children are evacuated first, starting with the oldest, as they may assist in helping younger ones.

Avoid panic and the instinct to grab your cell phone. Quick, decisive action following the SWOC protocol can significantly increase the chances of survival.

Dr. Giesbrecht advocates this structured approach to vehicle submersion survival, which not only educates but potentially saves lives by promoting a calm, systematic response to what could be a terrifying situation. All emergency procedures should be practiced by scheduling regular drills. 

In an industry where the car is as much an office as any building, we must equip ourselves against potential threats. From structural collapses to water hazards, the road is fraught with dangers. Yet, real estate professionals can safely navigate these risks with the right knowledge, tools, and preparedness.

Equip your vehicle with life-saving tools, stay informed about your environment, and never underestimate the value of preparedness. Let’s drive toward a safer tomorrow, armed with homes to sell and the knowledge and tools to protect ourselves and our clients.

Tracey Hawkins is a former real estate agent, international real estate safety and security expert, instructor, and keynote speaker. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Instagram.





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