Lockouts aren’t cute when baby’s inside

  • Julie Muhlstein / Herald Columnist
  • Tuesday, October 24, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local News

A blond stops for gas.

While she’s gassing up, she sees she has locked her keys in the car. She asks the attendant for a coat hanger. Ten minutes later, he comes out to check how it’s going.

The blond is outside the car wiggling the hanger around. Inside the car, another blond is saying, "a little more to the left … a little more to the right."

Oh, sorry. Now you know. I have a wicked fondness for blond jokes.

You don’t have to be blond to lock your keys in the car. You don’t have to be dumb, either, not that blondness and dumbness have a thing to do with each other.

I’ve done it myself, slammed a door only to be infuriated by the sight of keys dangling from the ignition. We’ve all done it. We are human, therefore we lock keys in cars.

Tuesday, it was someone else’s turn. When I arrived at my child-care provider’s house, a car was in the driveway. A woman stood in the cold. She dabbed her nose with Kleenex and peered into a back-seat window.

There was no blond in the car. There is no joke in this tale.

The woman’s 11-week-old son was sleeping peacefully in his rear-facing car seat. Her keys hung from the ignition switch. The baby had been locked in for nearly an hour. He had cried himself to sleep.

The mother’s first instinct had been to call 911. By the time I got there, an Everett police officer had come and gone, but hadn’t sprung the lock.

Finally, up pulled a white steed disguised as an Evergreen Lock &amp Key truck. The knight who jumped out saved the day with a metal gadget slipped between the car’s window and door. With her baby safe in her arms, the mother handed the knight a credit card without asking his fee.

"It usually averages $40 to $45 for a lockout," said Randy Halvorson, office manager at the Everett business. "I’d say we average about six of these a day. In fact, we’ve had four lockouts so far this morning."

Sgt. Butch Braley of the Everett Police Department explained that officers rarely help people get into their locked cars because of the design of newer-model vehicles.

"The electric locks on cars are very difficult to deal with," Braley said when asked why officers don’t carry unlocking tools. "Generally, a supervisor has those in his car, but we discourage an officer from using them. The only time we make an entry into a car is if the vehicle is running or if there is a child inside. If we do any damage, we could become responsible for the car."

There’s also a safety concern with newer cars. "Side-impact air bags can explode," Braley said.

Cold weather brings a rash of locked-out calls.

"People go out and run their car to warm it up," Braley said.

Police tell most callers to contact a locksmith or towing company.

Janet Ray, a spokeswoman for AAA of Washington, said 18 percent of the auto club’s calls "come in for locksmith service."

"With today’s new models, and all the different locking mechanisms, we warn members never to get out of the car with a key still in the ignition," Ray said. "If for some reason they need to get out and have the engine running, they should never do that without leaving a window down."

The days of using a coat hanger to break in are over, Ray said.

Dumb, huh? It’s dumber than a blond joke that auto companies don’t build cars that are lockout-proof. It’s one of those "they can put a man on the moon …" propositions.

Technology is improving. Auto safety is improving. But we’re stuck with human nature, too many distractions, and cars that are too easy to lock with their 11-week-old passengers inside.

When my older kids were babies, I drove an ancient Audi Fox. The 1975 model had no automatic locks. I couldn’t push the buttons down and lock the Fox from outside. I had to use a key, which meant I had to have the key in my hand. I never had a morning like the one an Everett mom had Tuesday.

Hear that, you auto-design wizards? Fix it.

And do something about key-ring car alarms. My 2-year-old loves to grab mine and push the panic button. That horn you hear is not the sound of my car being stolen.

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