BBC2’s Top Gear is, by and large, a waste of time these days, just Jeremy Clarkson and sidekicks in an aircraft hanger making snide remarks about cars most of us can’t afford (the latest victim was a Bentley). This Sunday, though, it came up with something not only worthwhile, but potentially life-saving.
Conventional wisdom says that if your car goes off the road, Richard Hillman-style, into a body of water then you should resist the urge to get the hell out of it straight away, and instead wait patiently until it’s submerged and fully flooded before trying to open the doors. This has always sounded like a load of bollox to us, but Top Gear (which certainly knows a thing or two about loads of bollox) sent Clarkson’s diminutive minion Richard Hammond into a big tank of water to find out if it really is.
As it turns out, it is. With the water almost to the ceiling, Hammond took his last gulp of breath, but found the doors still held shut by the outside water pressure, and the now-soaked electric windows refusing to play ball. Only when the car hit the bottom, and the interior pressure had a chance to catch up, did the door open – but by that time he’d have been dead if it weren’t for the diver in the back seat with a spare oxygen mask. On a second run he opened the door while the car was still afloat, causing it to sink more quickly, but by that time he’d got clear anyway, so it didn’t matter.
It was good television, made all the more gripping by the way Hammond, a nervy little chap at the best of times, openly acknowledged his fear. So convincing was the experiment that RoSPA has now, apparently, changed its official advice on the subject. Top Gear In Useful Item Shock – Crikey! (as Clarkson might say). Well, it makes a change from scrubbing the tyres of BMWs on the airfield runway, anyway.