Car entrapment happens more often and more easily than most people think and it can be deadly. That’s why it is crucial to know how to escape.
Even a parked car poses many safety risks, said Byron Bloch, an auto safety expert and frequent expert witness based in Potomac, Maryland.
Cleveland resident Peter Pyros recently learned as much the hard way, when he was stuck for 14 hours in his Cadillac roadster after the car’s electrical system failed and he couldn’t figure out how to get out.
Bloch has consulted on and testified in hundreds of auto safety cases over a 40-year career.
Among vehicles’ dangers:
• Storage compartments in many large SUVs are big enough that a small child could fit inside and get trapped. In a case Bloch worked on a decade or so ago, he said, a toddler died of suffocation while trapped inside a storage compartment.
• “In accidents, car doors can be jammed,” he said. “You can be trapped if it goes off the road into water and becomes submerged. So many vehicles have electric windows, and if you lose the power to your electric windows, it’s very difficult to get out of a submerged car.”
• Trunk entrapment is a major safety issue — beyond TV drama kidnappings. A child playing, for example, can get trapped.
Here are some tips for what people should do in the event that they are trapped in a car.
The first key to getting out of a car alive is to arm yourself with knowledge.
Study the owner’s manual to know where any emergency handles for escape are located, said Bloch. Be sure every family member who uses the car knows where they are, he said.
Next, he said, go through the owner’s manual and find out whether there’s a reserve for the electrical system that will unlock the doors or windows if the engine fails.
Keep a charged cellphone on you. Bloch and AAA recommend checking the battery charge on the key fob every two to three years. AAA said to not expose a keyless-entry remote or smart key to harsh elements — especially water. Obtain a spare key and store it in a safe location for emergency use only.
In the event a person is trapped in a car, the first order of business most experts and instruction manuals recommend is to remain calm, even if the car is submerged in water. Then:
• Check every door lock and window to see if one will open.
• If you have a charged mobile phone, call for help.
• Try to attract attention by pounding on the windows if people are around.
• Honk the horn, if it works.
• If you have paper and pen and there are people nearby, make a help sign.
• If someone does approach the car, ask them to use the outside handles.
• If those fail: It’s time to break the window.
Effectively breaking a car’s window is a lot harder than it looks. A heavy flashlight or bat will not work, experts say. Only a pointed hammerlike product will do the trick.
Dozens of emergency escape kits for sale contain glass-breaking devices and often seat-belt cutters that range in cost from a few dollars up to $50 or so. A six-in-one tool, for example, is about $50. It contains a seat-belt cutter, flashlight, emergency signal, car charger for any USB device, a portable power bank and a glass breaker.
The person needs to know which window to break for escape, said Emery Weak, manager of Auto Value auto parts store on Plymouth Road in Livonia, Michigan.
“You have to break your side windows; they are tempered. That means, when they break, they break into a million pieces and you can get out,” said Weak. “The front window is not like that; it’ll just crack and spider web because it’s not tempered.”
But some automakers have started to laminate the side windows in recent years to prevent shattered glass during a crash, experts say. A car owner should find out if their side windows are laminated, if so, they would have to be kicked out to escape.
Auto Value sells an Automatic Center Punch for $17.19 to break tempered glass, Weak said. It is like a pin that, when the button is pushed on it, pokes a hole in the glass, which can then be shattered, Weak said.
“Or, you can use a hammer with a point on it,” Weak said. “If you hit it with a hammer, it won’t break. But, if you hit it with a point, it will shatter. That’s how tempered glass works.”
Escaping from a trunk
As part of federal law, all cars built after 2002 contain a mechanical release lever inside the trunk as standard equipment, said Bloch. The lever must be easy to find, glow in the dark and simple enough for a toddler to use, he said.
Most late-model cars also have a backseat that will collapse to allow access to the trunk from inside the car.
Cars built before 2002 going back to the 1980s typically have a trunk release cable inside the trunk that a person can tug to open it, online insurance safety guides say.