S-C-W-O: the mnemonic that could save your life

Today’s blog topic is brought to you by my monthly dinner group—a great group of smart, funny, loyal, dynamic, and successful moms I’m lucky to call friends. They didn’t know it at the time, but this group of girlfriends touched on a subject that I thought would be useful to all moms and dads. The conversation started with a news story that happened in Waco a few weeks ago. A 24-year-old woman was driving in her truck across the Twin Bridges over Lake Waco and crashed into the guardrail after glancing at her cell phone. (She said she looked down for just a second. We’ve all done it.) The impact caused her truck to split apart and create a hole in the floorboard as it teetered over the edge of the bridge. She fell through the hole in her floorboard into the lake below and swam 200 yards to shore. Wow. Somehow, she survived without any major injuries or broken bones—just bruises all over her body.

As our dinner group talked about the craziness and scariness of the story, we wondered aloud what we would do in that situation. Even worse, what would we do if our car actually crashed into the lake with us in it? And with our kids!? Scream! Panic! Freak out! Die! Okay, really what do we do? Roll down the windows? No! Wait for the car to sink so the door can open? Kick open the windows? Use a glass breaker? We weren’t sure!

According to Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, an expert in hypothermia and cold water submersion studies, the mnemonic S-C-W-O will help you remember the 4 steps to escaping from a car sinking in water.


Submerged car

S: Seatbelts—Get your seatbelt off immediately.

C: Children—Unbuckle or cut your children’s seatbelt and get them in the front seat with you.

W: Window—Lower or break your window.

O: Out–Escape out the window, pushing your children out first.

Your car will float for 1 minute and you have that 1 minute to escape. Once the car starts sinking, the electric windows will short out and you will need a window hammer to break the window open. You guessed it! I just bought my window hammer (and seat belt cutter) ResQMe today here at Amazon.com.

I know it’s unlikely, but unlikely things happen all the time, right? That’s what this blog has always been about: teaching parents and kids how to be safe and be prepared for bad situations! A more common situation we read about in Texas is flash floods and cars getting submerged in low water crossings. Might as well be prepared for the worst! For more details about Dr. Giesbrecht’s tips on escaping from a sinking car, click on this link.

As a side note, most of his older articles use the mnemonic S-W-C-O where he has you opening the window first before getting the children. He has changed it to say S-C-W-O to remember to get the children unbuckled first before opening the window. It makes sense anyway—our natural instinct will be to grab our kids. Plus, it makes the mnemonic easier to say/remember. SCWO!!!

Knowledge is power. Stay safe!

Soo Battle, M.D., F.A.A.P.


Disclaimer: The information contained on this website/blog is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the relationship that exists between you and your pediatrician or doctor. Please contact your doctor for medical advice and/or treatment recommendations specific to your child.

Dr. Soo Battle

Dr. Soo Battle is a board-certified, licensed pediatrician who works at the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims & Children in Waco, Texas. She is the Children's Advocacy Center Medical Advisor and has been a trained child sexual abuse examiner since 2015.