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This morning a bus en route to Zimbabwe caught alight. No one was killed in the crash but news reports say there were a few moments of panic as passengers desperately tried to escape the vehicle by climbing through windows. Clearly, their fast thinking helped in preventing tragedy but for others whose vehicles burst into flames, they cannot say the same.

The managing director of MasterDrive, Eugene Herbert, says while not common, finding yourself in a vehicle that catches alight is a possibility. “The first line of defence is to rectify any risk factors. Regular services and maintenance will detect risk factors such as fuses blowing too often or oil and other fluid leaks. Of your own accord, pay attention to sudden and dramatic changes in fuel and oil levels and engine temperature.

“If, however, you still find yourself in this situation, react quickly but calmly. Get out of the vehicle as quickly as possible. Some retailers sell kits that you can keep in your cubby hole to help you get out of the car if you can’t open the door or window. They contain items to cut seatbelts and break windows,” says Herbert.

Herbert provides some more tips on this dangerous situation:

  • If you notice smoke coming out of the air vents, from under the vehicle or even inside the cabin pull over immediately and turn off the ignition
  • Exit the car immediately
  • Do not attempt to extinguish the fire yourself, rather call for emergency help as it is highly possible to worsen the fire
  • Alert oncoming traffic to the danger

If you are stuck in the car following a crash, you can do the following:

  • Before you even encounter an emergency, read your owner’s manual to check if there is an emergency reserve that can open the doors and windows if the engine fails or if there are any emergency handles
  • Do not wait for emergency vehicles to free you, time is of the essence
  • Keep scissors in the cubby hole so that if your seatbelt does not release you can cut it off
  • If you do not have scissors, put the top section of your seat as far down as you can and wiggle out of the seatbelt.
  • If your window shattered in the crash, you should be able to kick the glass out
  • If a window did not break, you will need to break one. Do not break the front or rear windows as the glass is more difficult to break. Select a side window.
  • Breaking a window in a car is very difficult and therefore it is worthwhile to keep a glass-breaking device in the cubby hole.
  • If you don’t have this, look for something that is strong and slightly pointed at the end.
  • Try break the window around the edges not in the centre.

None of these methods are failproof. “Yet, power is knowledge. If you think of the possibility and how to escape from it before it actually happens, it may guide your reactions more effectively,” says Herbert.