You’re stuck in traffic in the middle of a large bridge, and the ground begins shaking violently. Suddenly, the bridge cracks open, and the cars in front of you start falling into the hole.
This bridge is collapsing, and there’s nowhere to run. How can you get out alive?
There are more than 617,000 bridges across the United States, and almost half of them are at least 50 years old. The American Society of Civil Engineers ranked the U.S. bridges for maintenance and safety. On a scale of A to F, they earned a C+. So perhaps you’d better prepare for impact.
How often do bridges collapse? What are the warning signs? And how could your car horn save your life?
On a typical Wednesday evening in August 2007, the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. The cars and the people inside them fell over six stories into the Mississippi River. The majority of people survived, but 15 people died. If you find yourself on one of the 128 U.S. bridges that collapse every year, here’s what you can do to survive.
Step 1. Roll down your windows
Whether you’re falling into the water or onto solid ground, you’re more likely to live if you roll down your windows. On land, closed windows can suffocate you by preventing oxygen from entering the vehicle. Also, they could muffle your screams and make it harder for rescuers to find you.
And, water’s pressure will trap you in your car once it is submerged. So, roll down your windows and climb out of your car as soon as possible. If the windows are stuck, you can break them with something like an ice scraper. Aim for the edges of the window.
Step 2. Fasten your seatbelt
One reason why people have survived falling dozens of meters (or feet) is the safety features in vehicles, such as the seatbelt. Don’t even think of removing it until you’re certain that the impact is over and you’ve landed. Prematurely removing the seat belt could cause you to knock your head on something and become unconscious. If you’re not conscious, you can’t help yourself or scream to help rescuers find you.
Step 3. Look for Cracks
One of the main reasons a bridge collapses is its wear and tear. Think of every car around you. Those tons and tons of steel could have weakened the bridge and suddenly, at this very moment, it collapses.
In the United States, vehicels take 178 million trips across these structurally deficient bridges every single day. Which one will be the final trip before it breaks?
When you enter a bridge it is critically important to look for any cracks, and listen for odd sounds from the bridge. If you find any of those signs do not cross the bridge.
Step 4. Honk your horn
Most bridges fall the same way: a little at a time, and then all at once. To survive you need to either get off the bridge in a split second, which is not always possible, or use the resources around you after the fall to call for help. Use the car horn to make a loud noise. Your battery could die but this could help rescuers find you faster.
Step 5. Stop driving.
If you’re on a bridge that has started to fall apart, DO NOT try to drive away from it. The bridge itself could make your vehicle drop straight down on top of pieces of the bridge before hitting the water. But water can provide some cushioning, and save your life.
If you’re severely injured, stay put and yell for help. And wait for the rescue team to come to you. Don’t panic, and remember that your odds of dying in a bridge collapse are one in several million. You’re more likely to die of a lightning strike.
- “How did so many people survive bridge collapse?”. 2007. Duluth News Tribune.
- “9 Common Reasons For Bridge Failures – Bridge Masters”. 2017. Bridge Masters.
- “Despite being well into middle age, Canadian bridges get a C+ based on their condition”. John, Clinkard. 2018. Daily Commercial News.
- “Seat Belts Key To Survival In Bridge Collapse”. Emily, Friedman. ABC News.
- “Statistics”. 2021. Thoughtco.