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Trapped in a Sinking Car

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"His beloved car will be his grave."
Johnson, Transporter 3
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Want to show a character struggle for survival in a dangerous Drowning Pit situation that is easy to set up? Look no further, simply have the victim trapped in a car shooting off a cliff or bridge straight into a large body of water below. Often preceded by malfunctioning brakes, blown tires, an incapacitated driver or the car being rammed off by another vehicle.
Bonus point if the car goes into a slow-motion fall once in mid-air. For added drama, the seatbelts may jam or a passenger gets stuck some other way on impact.

Favorite trope for villains who want to get rid of a character who knows too much and needs to be silenced in a non-suspicious way. If executed successfully, the victim might end up never being found.

Truth in Television in the sense that plunging a car into water can be very, very dangerous. The pressure of the water against the door could make it physically impossible to open if the passenger does not open the door immediately. Indeed, the pressure of the water against the window may make it impossible to open via conventional means, whether it's a manual crank or electric. There are two ways out of the situation: Soft Glass (which can be invoked by using a tool meant to shatter tempered glass) or waiting for the pressure differential between the inside and outside to stabilize, which won't happen until the cabin is filled to the brim. Watch MythBusters demonstrating this trope in episode Underwater Car and Inverted Underwater Car.

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Subtrope of Death Trap. Sometimes averted in fiction when the car turns into an Amphibious Automobile.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In ERASED, Satoru is trapped in the killer's car, unable to take off his seatbelt, and the killer casually pushes it into a freezing lake and leaves Satoru to drown. It nearly works, instead plunging Satoru into a fifteen-year coma.

    Comic Books 
  • Rivers of London: Body Work starts off with a man drowning after his car goes into the Thames. It turns out that the car had recently had its engine replaced with one from another car of the same make that had been possessed by a malign entity, which had been broken up for parts by the mechanic the car's owner, Celeste Mapstone, had taken it to with a request to destroy it. At the end, the same fate nearly befalls Celeste's sister Kim, possessed by the same entity, and two of the sisters' friends when Kim, under the entity's control, drives the last car with a part from the possessed one into the duck pond by the Mapstone house. Fortunately, Nightingale arrives immediately afterwards and uses magic to rip the top off the car, saving their lives.
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    Comic Strips 
  • Dick Tracy:
    • The Brow killed the treacherous Summer sisters by forcing their cab off a bridge into the river. They were trapped inside and drowned.
    • A 2014 story ends with criminal siblings Silver and Sprocket Nitrate locked inside a car at the bottom of a lake — where Sprocket had deliberately driven them after her brother struck her. The story cuts away before they actually drown, but they aren't reported as living either.

    Film — Animation 
  • In Big Hero 6, Wasabi's car ends up going off a pier after fleeing from Yokai. Fortunately, the damage the car has sustained during the chase allows for an easy exit, and Baymax is able to discard the armor Hiro made for him and act as a flotation device.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • James Bond:
    • Bond had to escape one of these in A View to a Kill. He is able to open the car door once the cabin is flooded with water. Bond then realizes that he cannot surface immediately because the baddies are waiting ashore, so he opens the wheel valve and inhales the out-rushing air.
    • Invoked in Licence to Kill. While in custody, villain Franz Sanchez offers $2 million to anyone willing to help him escape. Naturally, some baddies jump at the call. As Sanchez is being transported across a bridge, the armoured truck is forced into the water where scuba divers rescue him from the back of the truck.
  • In Beetlejuice, the Maitlands accidentally drive off a bridge and drown at the beginning of the film; the rest is about their ghosts haunting the new residents of their house.
  • Downplayed in Big Fish. Will Bloom's car gets caught in rain so intense that it is submerged by the ensuing flood. However, the cabin appears sealed off and Will gets to enjoy the underwater world.
  • In The Bourne Supremacy, Bourne's car goes careening off a pier due to the assassin that is trying to kill them. He escapes, but his girlfriend got fatally shot in the process.
  • Luisa Rey's beetle in Cloud Atlas is being pushed off a bridge to prevent her from exposing industry secrets. She manages to escape from the sinking vehicle in an Offscreen Moment of Awesome.
  • Double Jeopardy: Libby is tied to a car in handcuffs; as she tries to escape the car, she drives into the lake, sinking rapidly.
  • Final Destination 2: Kimberly has a vision of someone with bloody hands in a submerging van and realizes that Isabella was never meant to die in the pile-up. She later realizes the person in her vision was herself and immerses a van in a lake to drown herself. Kimberly is rescued by Burke and resuscitated by Kalarjian, which was her actual premonition, thus granting her new life.
  • In The Game, Nicholas' car is plunged off a pier as part of the super-scary "game" to make his life more exciting. He manages to escape by pulling down the window using a crank that was left in his possession earlier on.
  • Invoked in Inception, when the team's van is driven off a bridge to make them wake up from a deeper dream state. Though everyone is equipped with oxygen devices, Cobb and Saito had to be Left for Dead.
  • Del Spooner has a mistrust of robots in I, Robot because he ended up in a car accident which caused his car to be fused (thanks to the speed of cars at the time) to one with a little girl inside (her parents apparently died instantly) and end up in the water. A passing robot (which automatically intervened thanks to the first law) could only save one of them and rescued Spooner (damaging his arm in the process), who had a slightly higher chance of survival, despite his pleas to save the girl (since the first law overrode the second law). This situation is the root of his hatred towards robots - even though prioritizing treatment for people in accidents is very much a real thing, called Triage, Spooner felt that a human rescuer would try to save a child over an adult no matter how futile the attempt would be.
  • In Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Harry tries to free a girl from the trunk of a sinking car. His desperate attempt to Shoot Out the Lock of the trunk results in giving the girl a headshot. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!.
  • In Paddington 2, the titular bear gets trapped in a train car sinking into a river. Mary dives after him but they both cannot get the locked train door to open. Cue the Big Damn Heroes moment for Knuckles and his friends.
  • At the climax of Night Moves, Joey Ziegler dies when his plane sinks into the Atlantic.
  • Raising Cain: Cain watches his victim wake up and then start to sink into the river in a locked car.
  • In Strange Brew, the McKenzie brothers' van is sabotaged and they careen off a pier. When police scuba divers later attempt a recovery, they find the van's inhabitants inside 'drinking' air from all the empty beer bottles they have.
  • In a The Dog Bites Back moment in Sunset, Alperin's badly abused chauffeur Arthur drives the car containing Alperin and himself off the pier and into the marina. Alperin manages to escape the car but Arthur can't swim and has to be saved from drowning by Tom Mix.
  • Superman:
    • Superman: The Movie offers an unusual and disturbing case of Car Sinking in Dirt. Lois Lane is off somewhere in the desert of the American Southwest when an earthquake fault opens up and swallows her car. She is then buried under an avalanche of dirt.
  • In Man of Steel, a young Clark Kent saves a bus of his classmates from meeting a watery fate despite the wishes of his adopted father to remain incognito.
  • In The Thieves, the police van drives into the harbour when the thieves attempt to escape. Everyone manages to get out when it hits the water, except for Pepsee, who ends up handcuffed to the inside of the van and is trapped in the sinking van.
  • In Transporter 3, the hero drives his car off a bridge and into a river in order to evade the bullets coming at him. He manages to escape the sinking car by smashing a window.
  • In Trick 'r Treat, the "Halloween Schoolbus Massacre" is about a group of disturbed kids who were murdered by their bus driver via driving their school bus into a flooded quarry.
  • The heroine in Underworld (2003) passes out at the wheel from a loss of blood, sinking into the river together with Michael.
  • In Unknown (2011), due to a freak accident in Berlin traffic, the hero's taxi goes off a bridge and into the river Spree. He hits his head on the window and goes unconscious as the car sinks deeper and deeper into the water. Gladly, his taxi driver is a Bad Ass Bystander and manages to free herself and then pull Martin out through the cab's rear window.
  • Small scene in War of the Worlds. The ship carrying Ray (Tom Cruise) and his family capsizes with all of the survivors going into the water, some trapped in cars.
  • In the climax of What Lies Beneath, Claire's truck careers down an embankment into the lake, where it dislodges Madison's car. Disturbed by the debris, Madison's corpse floats toward Norman and Claire and avenges her own death, drowning Norman and allowing Claire to swim to the surface.

    Literature 
  • Nicholas Pileggi's Wiseguy based off Henry Hill's exploits in the mafia has a narration of their disposing of a body via plunging the car it's in in a pond.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alias: In the Back Story, Sidney's mother died when she drowned in her car. It was discovered after she died that she was a KGB operative. During one episode, Sidney has to temporarily fake her death, and she does so by driving her car off a pier, then surviving by breathing the air in the tires. This clues her into the fact that her mother might not have drowned as everyone thought.
  • On As the World Turns, after kidnapping and raping Jack, his crazy ex-wife Julia decided to cap things off by leaving him tied up in his car and pushing it into a lake.
  • Happens to Gereon and Charlotte in Babylon Berlin season 2 episode 7. Their car is forced off the road and into a lake by Bruno in his truck. The car is sinking beneath the water and settles on the lakebed. Charlotte's arm is stuck, but neither of them is able to free her as the glass begins to buckle under the water pressure. Once the water has filled the car, Gereon opens the driver's door and goes for the surface attempting to find a lever with which to free Charlotte, but fails, frantically diving back into the water and going for a mouth-to-mouth exchange of air. Charlotte gives up despite Gereon's attempts to stop her. She gets a Disney Death resurrection in the next episode though.
  • An early episode of Baywatch had lovebirds Eddie and Shauni trapped in an armored truck that had plunged off the pier.
  • CSI: In "Bloodsport", one Victim of the Week is a woman who is trapped in a sinking car by a jammed seatbelt, and who drowns after she accidentally shoots a man who is attempting to rescue her.
  • Mac on CSI: NY in the season 5 pilot. He was kidnapped by a hostage taker and the guy abandoned Mac and the car in the river. Naturally, Mac escapes.
  • Daredevil (2015): In S3xE4, Wilson Fisk attempts to kill Matt by having a bunch of inmates and guards on his payroll attack him in a staged prison riot. When that fails, Fisk activates a backup plan, and has one of his henchmen replace the taxi driver who brought Matt to the prison. The replacement driver gets the cab up to speed, then bails out and leaves the driverless cab to take Matt on a one-way trip into the Hudson. We don't see Matt's escape, but when the police recover the cab the next day, there is no corpse.
  • Dexter. In S8xE4, Dexter and Debra crash into the river as Dexter is hit unconscious.
  • Doctor Who: Nearly occurs to the Doctor and a UNIT private in "The Sontaran Stratagem", where the Sontarans have hijacked the jeep's satnav system and drive it towards a river. Thankfully, the Doctor is able to Logic Bomb the satnav, stopping the jeep just before it goes into the water. The Sontarans had previously done it to a journalist who asked too many questions.
  • This marked the culmination of the feud between Phil and Grant Mitchell in EastEnders. They were both in a car with Grant driving, Phil pulled a gun on him, and the car went out of control and veered into the River Thames. Phil got rescued, and Grant managed to escape off-screen.
  • Emergency! had a couple. Roy and John have to use the Jaws of Life underwater in "Séance", and another has a teenage boy trapped in his submerged car.
  • Happens on ER, after two doctors are shot at in a road rage incident. Their car goes off the bridge into the river with them and their friend trapped inside. Luckily, the windows are rolled up, so they're able to call for help before the car sinks, as well as have enough time for the rescue squad to get there before it fills with water.
  • Lethal Weapon (2016): In "Brotherly Love", Riggs is car-butted into water but manages to pull out (bloodily) even as Roger dives in to save his mate.
  • Midsomer Murders: "Dark Secrets" opens with a flashback to 1975 where a brother and sister are involved in an accident where their speeding car runs off the road and into the river; leaving them both trapped in the sinking car. This accident proves pivotal to several murders that take place 25 years later.
  • MythBusters Episodes 72: Underwater Car & 155: Inverted Underwater Car both experimented with this trope.
  • NCIS: Happens to Gibbs and the now-grown friend of his late daughter in "Requiem".
  • Rizzoli & Isles: In "Dirty Little Secret", Jane and Maura are trapped in a wrecked car that is slowly being submerged as the water rises around them.
  • This kicks off the plot in the first episode of Smallville. Lex Luthor isn't watching as he's driving and runs Clark over, shooting off a bridge and into the lake. Clark rips the roof off of Lex's car to rescue him. Much of the rest of the series has a subplot of Lex trying to figure out how Clark did that.
  • Several times on Third Watch, ending tragically once—they get the two people in the car out safely, but the man who was locked in the trunk drowns—they'd been taken prisoner by a carjacker—and triumphantly the second time, this time with a sinking helicopter.
  • An episode of Top Gear demonstrates this trope, with Richard Hammond in the role of the unfortunate driver.
  • Vera: In "Silent Voices", the murderer attempts to dispose of his final victim by placing her in a car and rolling it off a cliff into a reservoir. Joe has to dive in to save her.
  • The X-Files episode "Nothing Important Happened Today". A female Super Soldier lures a man into taking her home and forces his car over the edge of a bridge and into the water. She then uses her immunity to death to hold him underwater until he drowns.

    Music 
  • In Eminem's "Stan", Stan purposely drives his car off a bridge into a body of water, drowning himself and his pregnant girlfriend (who he has locked in the trunk).

    Video Games 
  • In Heavy Rain, a bad guy attempts to drown Scott Shelby and Lauren Winters, who have come too close to discovering his crimes, in their car. You play as Scott and must find a way to escape before the time runs out — if you are fast enough, you can even save the unconscious Lauren.
  • Silent Hill:
  • The fate of Devin Westin in ending C of Grand Theft Auto V. Trevor, Michael, and Franklin lock him in the trunk of one of his luxury cars and push it off a cliff into the ocean. And then the car explodes.
  • Battlefield 4 starts its campaign mode early on with the one of the player's platoon members' death by him being trapped in a car, unable to flee.

    Webcomics 

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy:
    • In the episode "The Courtship of Stewie's Father", Peter and Stewie do this to Lois as a prank. Fortunately, Lois survives, and when she gets back home, she is not happy with them at all.
    • In another episode it happens to a full school bus after a banner is let loose by Peter & Mort. Every passenger on the bus is not as lucky as Lois because there are no survivors.
  • South Park: In "Butters' Very Own Episode", Butters' mom tries to drown him by locking him in the car and sending it into the river, blaming it on "some Puerto Rican guy."
  • Happens towards the end of the Defenders of the Earth episode "100 Proof Highway" when alcoholic guest character Eric loses control of his car and crashes it into a lake — with himself and Jedda trapped inside. Luckily, Rick and LJ rescue them and the experience convinces Eric that he needs to quit drinking.

    Real Life 
  • The infamous Chappaquiddick episode in which U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy and Kennedy family aide Mary Jo Kopechne went plunging off a bridge leading away from Chappaquiddick Island. Kennedy escaped the car and survived; Kopechne drowned.
  • NBC News anchor Jessica Savitch was killed along with her boyfriend when he, driving away from a restaurant in a heavy rain storm, took a wrong turn and instead of driving away on the main road, took an access road that led to a drainage canal.
  • The "Emergency Medical Dispatch" protocols designed by the company Priority Dispatch, which are used by a large number of emergency dispatch centers worldwide, introduced a specific protocol to address callers reporting sinking vehicles after a number of incidents transpired.
  • This is realized to have happened in the plethora of Finally Found the Body cases that involve a missing person's car being found submerged in a body of water, with the person's remains still in it.
  • On a tragic Father's Day in 2005, Robert Farquharson drove his car into a dam in the outskirts of Geelong, Victoria, Australia, and fled the scene, leaving his three sons, Jai, Tyler, and Bailey Gambino, to drown. Farquharson hated his sons, as well as his ex-wife Cindy Gambino, and drowned them to spite her. He got three life sentences. Gambino would go on to be a spokesperson against domestic violence.
  • In another Australian case, a mentally ill man drove into the docks in Port Lincoln, South Australia, along with his infant sons in a Pater Familicide around January 2016, leaving his heartbroken wife behind.

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