If you drive or ride in cars regularly with infants or small children- or know people who do- you should be thinking about automobile lockouts as summer is arriving in our hemisphere.
While we were loading our cars after baby group, one mom (a wonderful, caring, responsible person) loaded her baby and toddler in the car and their stroller and ended up accidentally locking her kids, her keys, and her phone in the car. A few of the playgroup moms were still there, so she didn't have to summon strangers to assist.
With the help of the hospital's security staff (our baby group meets at a local hospital), we were able to get her car open in about 20 minutes. The kids and their mom were frightened and relieved, and no one was hurt.
This lockout happened to an excellent, attentive mother through an atypical series of events. This could happen to anyone- even a stranger you see in a parking lot- so be prepared to help if it does happen.
#1- DO NOT PANIC. This seems to be the first item on many an emergency/disaster checklist, but it's for a good reason. When you panic, you have a much harder time sorting through the actions you need to take. Occupy your mind with "What CAN I do?" rather than "What's going to happen?" or "Why did I let this happen?" This is not the time for reflection or blame. Those kids need you to be clear headed and proactive.
Also, your children are taking their cues from you and you need to help them stay calm. You know how your child gets hotter when they scream? That is the last thing you need now. Make faces, sing songs, hop up and down like a rabbit, try and engage your child in some distraction (the more you look like an idiot the better your odds of making the baby laugh). Your kids need to know that everything is okay- so put on your goofy face and keep them as mellow as possible.
#2- NOTE THE TIME. During an emergency time takes on a completely abnormal feel. For me this incident just flew by, but for the mom it felt much longer than the time it took to get the car open. Knowing how long the car has been closed lets you know when it is time to break the window.
#3- CALL 911. You're phone is in the car? You're alone? Enlist the help of strangers. Repeat after me: "Hey, you- please call 911 my baby's locked in this car with my keys. We need help." Who cares what they think- as long as they get help there fast. If there is more than one person there, pick one to assign the task to. Sometimes in groups people become immobile- if you single someone out, they feel more involved in the situation and are more likely to help.
I didn't call 911 today because I didn't think they helped with lock-outs and I didn't want to waste any time. Nor did I call my auto club locksmith service because that always takes at least 45 minutes. It turns out that 911 will dispatch police and/or fire emergency responders if a young child or infant is locked in a car. They have a special universal tool to open a locked car door. Their tool may break your car's lock or do damage, but who can compare that to your child's safety. Don't worry that you may get the child out of the vehicle before they arrive, if so, they'll understand why you called. It's very good to call 911- because if the child needs assistance when removed from the car, they can provide first line medical assistance.
#4- COVER THE WINDOWS WITH BLANKETS OR TARPS AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE- then the roof if you can get enough blankets. Do this fast. The heat and light entering through the windows and absorbed through the roof are causing the temperature in the car to increase. Covering the windows can help slow the rate of temperature increase inside the car.
#5- REMEMBER YOU CAN BREAK A WINDOW- BUT DO IT ONLY WITH PLANNING AND EXTREME CAUTION. This is an important option to remember, but it should only be used as a last resort. Breaking a window poses some danger for the children inside the car as the glass can spray everywhere. That kind of auto glass is almost impossible to clean out of the car fully, and you'll probably be finding bits of it in the car for years after the breakage. This is obviously bad with toddlers or infants, so pick your window judiciously and AS FAR FROM THE CHILDREN AS POSSIBLE. Also, don't injure yourself breaking the window. You don't need another emergency situation to deal with.
#6- ONCE YOUR CHILDREN ARE OUT OF THE CAR- REHYDRATE AND GRADUALLY COOL THEM. Human bodies are not designed to go from one temperature extreme to another without transition, so make sure you don't chill your kids while cooling them down. Give them plenty to drink- room temperature to cool drinks, but don't load up on ice. Truly cold things can make them quite sick when overheated. A cool washcloth is fine- but a cold one can cause more problems. You can take their shoes and clothes off to cool them down. A drastic change in environmental temperature can be problematic as well, so don't rush them into a room the temperature of a meat locker. Call your pediatrician if their behavior is at all abnormal.
#7- MAKE SURE YOU'RE OKAY BEFORE YOU DRIVE. This can be pretty emotional and traumatic, so don't feel like you have to rush off immediately. Take some deep breaths, get centered, and if you're still too shaken up to drive- try and think of someone who can help you and your kids get where you need to go. It's okay to ask for help.
#8- LEARN WHAT YOU CAN, ADAPT FOR THE FUTURE, AND FORGIVE YOURSELF. Yes, this whole situation sucks. And, yes, in hindsight any series of events could have been prevented, but you didn't want this to happen and you didn't intend for your kids to be at risk. Learn what you can from the incident and adapt so that it won't ever happen again and move on emotionally. Guilt alone gets you nowhere- and it can obscure actual insight into the situation.
And no matter how other people react or what they say to you, remember that accidents happen even with very good parents.
It hasn't happened to you yet? BE PROACTIVE:
-Stash a spare key on your car. My parents' cars always had magnetic key boxes on them while we were growing up. There's even a new powerful rare earth magnet one from GE with a combination lock and a connection point for a zip tie or wire cable. If you use a magnetic key box, make sure to put it somewhere inconspicuous (people will know exactly what's in it if they see it) and somewhere that it won't be bounced loose during travel on bumpy roads. You can use zip ties or a strong wire to secure a magnetic box (or even a naked key) to your car's superstructure. With the naked key method make sure the key isn't somewhere it will get a lot of exposure to corrosive elements (water, road salt, etc) or where it could get too hot and melt the key or the tie (close to the exhaust system, etc.).
-Stash a spare key in your wallet. If you always carry your wallet on your person, then this might be the best solution for you. At many locksmiths you can get a plastic key cut that fits into a credit card sized holder that fits discreetly in your wallet. This key won't work to get the ignition started if your car has a microchipped key, but they will probably get your door open. Consult the locksmith on this before ordering a plastic key. These wouldn't work for me as my bag is very likely to be wherever my keys are.
-Hook the keys to your person. I carry a billion keys, so many that my pants visibly sag when I shove them in a pocket. I always use a carabiner to attach my keys to myself, bag exteriors, and Ranger's stroller. This can be great when I clip them to my clothes when buckling Ranger in- or it can be disastrous like the time when I left them clipped to the diaper bag in the front seat while taking Ranger out and then closing the locked door. Ever since that storytime lock out that left Ranger and I stranded at the library (good place to be stuck during business hours) until another key could be delivered, I've been very conscious of hooking the keys to my pants when I put him in the car and not closing his door until I have my hand on the keys.
My mom, an elementary school teacher, can't afford to lose track of her keys at work, so she keeps them with her at all times with a stretchy coil wrist key chain.
-Load a couple useful items into your car in case this happens to someone near you. It was very frustrating to know that the lack of a simple wire coat hanger stood between us and those kids. We tore apart two umbrellas to try and get enough wire to open the doors, but it turned out neither wire was strong enough. Definitely stick a wire hanger in your car- preferably one with the paper tube at the bottom so you don't absolutely need pliers to cut/shape it. Pliers can come in handy too, and you should always have a general toolkit in your car (see Dad, I did periodically listen!).
Carry a large blanket or blankets (again, your should keep one of these in your car anyway) to cover windows and windshields.
I would also go so far as to recommend a safety hammer designed for breaking tempered auto glass (a third item that's always good to keep in reach of the drvier's seat). There are a number of brands and even some keychain models. If we'd had to break a window today, the safety hammer in my car would have been used. You don't want to be swinging a heavy object against the vehicle containing your children- that just creates additional risks and might cause the glass to spread further.
Does anyone have more tips to offer on automobile lockouts?