Have you accidentally locked your child in your car? Few moments can be as stress-inducing for a parent as seeing their child locked inside of their vehicle, only mere inches away, but with seemingly no way to get in. This issue is compounded if it’s very hot or cold outside, so it’s urgent that you take immediate action to safeguard your child’s wellbeing.
In addition to children being locked inside of cars, it’s also somewhat common for pets to be locked inside. This brief guide will give you options for how to safely get back inside of your vehicle without delay and how to take preventative action so that it doesn’t happen in the future.
How many children get locked inside of cars?
In the United States, there have been dozens of AMBER Alerts every year for children being locked inside of cars. Since the start of the pandemic to 2021, it’s estimated that as many as 40 children have been left alone in vehicles which have subsequently been abducted during a vehicle theft. In 2019, more than 200 such cases have been documented across the United States.
The good news is that upon releasing an AMBER Alert, the children were subsequently rescued. The bad news is that it can often take hours for police to track down the vehicle and to perform the rescue operation. As a parent, even a moment away from your little one can be stressful.
It’s one thing to accidentally lock your child or pet inside of the vehicle, but it’s quite another if the vehicle is stolen and the thief makes away with the vehicle and your child/pet. Sadly, this does happen. Although the rates for children or pets being abducted in a stolen vehicle are very low when compared to the skyrocketing rates of car theft, just one case is enough to cause worry and distress. If you’re interested in learning more about vehicle theft in the US in recent years, find out why car theft is on the rise and how to take action to reduce the chances of your vehicle being stolen.
The dangers of leaving a child or pet inside of a locked vehicle
Needless to say, there are many dangers for your child or pet if they’re locked inside of a vehicle. Kids and Car Safety has a helpful fact sheet detailing these risks as well as useful safety tips for parents and caregivers, so check that out for in-depth information.
Briefly, some of the key dangers include:
- Risk of heatstroke or freezing: when temperatures crack the 100 °F mark, children and pets are especially prone to heatstroke. A child’s body temperature can raise at a rate 3-5x that of an adult, whereas pets can quite easily suffer from heatstroke as well. In frigid temperatures, children and pets are at risk of hypothermia (when body temperatures fall below 95.0 °F).
- Risk of vehicle theft: car theft is rampant in the United States and thieves may often target vehicles without knowing that there is a child or pet in the back seat. Stepping away from your vehicle for even a moment can create a window of opportunity for a thief to break in and take off with your child or pet.
- Dangers of power windows: power windows exert a force of between 30-80 pounds, and it only takes 22 pounds of force to suffocate a child. If your child is inside the vehicle, they may be curious and start pressing the buttons for the power windows and trap themselves in a dangerous position.
- Accidental operation of the vehicle: at around 3-4 years of age (and older), children are quite curious and may attempt to operate the vehicle, or at least play with some of the buttons or levers inside. If they pull on the emergency brake, for example, they could put the vehicle in motion and put themselves in greater danger.
- Strangling, falling, choking: children locked inside of vehicles may be prone to choking themselves on the seatbelt, falling out of the carseat, or choking on food while you are away or in a situation where you cannot help them.
- Exiting the vehicle: if your child manages to escape from the vehicle, they may exit in an unsafe location, e.g. near a busy highway or street, in a parking lot, or near someone else who is backing up their vehicle and doesn’t see them.
It could happen anytime, anywhere
Just like there’s no good time to lose or misplace your car keys, locking your child or pet inside of your vehicle by accident can happen anytime or anywhere. When it comes to vehicle theft with a child or pet inside, there seems to be no particular trend as to when and where it can happen.
In February 2021, Kids and Car Safety documented 17 such cases whereby one or more children and/or pets were on board during a vehicle theft. The location of these thefts varied from locations such as a Walgreens parking lot, on-street parking, at a private residence, at a gas station, at a church, and at a daycare. In one case, a 13-year old girl was tragically dragged to death in an attempt to escape from the backseat of her family’s SUV which was stolen.
With car theft running rampant in cities and states across the country, it can happen anywhere. Needless to say, you can replace your vehicle and your valuables, but you cannot replace your loved ones. Don’t take chances and take preventative action so that your child or pet is not locked inside of your vehicle and make double sure that you’re vigilant of car theft.
How to save your child or pet from a locked vehicle
What should you do if your child or pet has been locked inside of your vehicle? If it weren’t for the fact that your child or pet was locked inside, we would recommend that you learn about what to do if you’re locked out of your car. Given the urgency of the situation, however, we recommend you do the following:
A child locked inside of a car is always an emergency situation, so the first thing to do is to call 911 and alert police and the fire department. Be sure to make it crystal clear that there is a child locked inside for an urgent response.
If your phone is also locked inside of your car, try asking a passerby or quickly run into the nearest gas station or store to request they call 911 on your behalf. Indeed, it is in your best interest to notify any witnesses or anyone else nearby of the situation so that they can keep an eye on your vehicle so that your child is not left unattended.
When it comes to rescuing children, pets, or even adults in locked vehicles, many states have implemented Good Samaritan Laws. All but eight states have adopted Good Samaritan laws for children being locked inside of vehicles.
Call a local emergency automotive locksmith
If your child or pet is not in immediate danger, you can get in touch with a local car locksmith near you that provides emergency lockout services. Many of them work 24/7 and can respond to these incidents urgently. In some cases, an emergency locksmith can even arrive before the police and open the door without causing damage to the locks.
Locksmiths listed on Auto Locksmiths are vetted and approved for quality, and many will be available to take on emergency lockouts with a priority on rescuing your child or pet as quickly and as safely as possible.
Protect your child or pet while waiting for help to arrive
While you’re waiting for emergency assistance to arrive, you should try to remain near your vehicle at all times to deter theft or burglary as well as to try and console your child or pet.
If the weather is hot outside, keep in mind that it can be significantly higher inside of the vehicle. In hot temperatures, try to cover the windshield and windows with blankets or anything else you can to block out the sun to prevent heatstroke. Again, this is another reason why it is important to make it known that you are in an emergency situation, since Good Samaritans may be willing to offer towels or jackets to block out the windows on your car.
Try to stay calm and remain vigilant
There’s no getting around the fact that seeing your child or pet locked inside of your vehicle can be incredibly stressful, but you should not be driven into a state of panic. Take steady breaths and act by following the above steps.
Keeping your composure and remaining calm can allow you to get through the entire situation with sound judgment and rational thinking, which can be very reassuring once your child or pet has been rescued.
It may even be possible for you to instruct your toddler or child to crack open a window or to unlock the doors themselves, even if they are quite young. Your reassuring presence and patient guidance may be able to help them get rescued sooner while still waiting for emergency services to arrive.
Take note of your surroundings and remain calm
Part of keeping calm (as much as possible) and exercising sound judgment is your ability to think clearly and to take note of the time and place of the incident. Not only is this important for communicating to emergency services in the first step above, but it can also be immensely helpful for law enforcement to generate a detailed report about the incident.
Taking note of the time is also important because you can know (or at least estimate) how long your child or pet has been locked inside. If you believe that it’s taking too long and your child may be at risk of heatstroke or hypothermia, you can resort to more extreme action.
Smash your window
This step is a last resort in the event that emergency services take too long to respond or if you believe that your child or pet is at severe risk. In extreme emergencies when you simply cannot afford to wait, you will need to regain access to your vehicle by force, if necessary.
First, check if your car trunk is locked or not. Many key fobs that lock all doors simultaneously do not necessarily lock the trunk. If it’s unlocked, pop it open and release the latch to enter the back, or use force if necessary and possible to do so.
Quite often, your only remaining option will be to smash the window. Do not attempt to smash the front windshield or the rear window. Instead, try to smash one of the door windows (obviously not the window where your child/pet is).
The easiest way to smash a car door window is normally to apply blunt force on the edges and not the center. The best tool is a spark plug, which you can harvest from your vehicle by popping the hood. Place the spark plug on the edges of a window, then use a hammer or other blunt instrument to give it a good whack.
Keep in mind that door windows are made of tempered safety glass (unlike your windshield, which is laminated safety glass). This type of glass will shatter into many small pieces which can be hazardous, so always smash the window farthest away from your child or pet.
How to avoid locking your child or pet inside of the car
You probably never want to have to experience locking your child or pet inside of your car, so what can you do to avoid it from happening? There are a few helpful ways to avoid locking your child or pet inside of the car:
- Never leave your child alone in your vehicle under any circumstances. Taking an infant out of a car seat and putting them back inside can be time-consuming, but taking a few moments to take them with you is far more worthwhile than running the risk of leaving them alone and unattended.
- Always request assistance and contact 911 if you see another child locked inside of a vehicle. Most states have Good Samaritan laws in place, so it is your responsibility to do the right thing and to act immediately.
- Keep car keys away from children. Children are naturally curious and like to play, but playing with car keys and pretending to drive daddy’s car is not the most productive way of playing and it can lead to them locking themselves inside accidentally.
- Choose delivery or use drive-thru services instead of leaving your child unattended. Car theft often happens when people step inside “just for a minute” and leave the vehicle unattended. If you absolutely must leave your vehicle, consider dropping off your child or pet at home with your partner or a family member before heading out.
In many states, knowingly leaving your child inside of a vehicle unattended can lead to charges for neglect or child endangerment. It simply isn’t worth it, so don’t risk it. If your child is locked inside on accident, well, accidents do happen and you should act immediately by contacting emergency services or an emergency locksmith.