Saga of the Jasonite

The continuing adventures of that eternal man of mystery…

Why you’re safer driving with your doors unlocked

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flipped car

Wouldn’t want to be inside this car, would you?

This particular issue has been on my mind for years. Given my overall irritation, I’m categorizing this as a rant.

It’s bugged me for years that cars in recent years have doors that automatically lock when you put the car in drive. I have a vehicle that was made in 2012, and it does this, though once I unlock the doors they stay that way. What’s more irritating is a 2015 vehicle that I have (a Honda) that will automatically lock the doors every time you start moving from a stop. No matter how many times I unlock it it locks them all back up, and there is no way to disable this feature, I’ve looked. This actually makes the people in the car less safe, and I’m going to explain why.

If you are involved in a car accident and for any reason are unable to open your door, you will have to rely on emergency personnel or a good samaritan passerby to extricate you. Having your door locked is one more barrier that they will have to overcome in order to do this, and it may end up costing you or your family their lives. This is an especially important issue if your car is burning, you are bleeding excessively, the car is in water, etc. If you are unconscious you won’t be able to help. If you have a broken arm, you won’t be able to help. If you are upside down in addition to any of these, you are very unlikely to be able to help. If the automatic door locks are broken as part of the accident, they won’t unlock. EMT’s are going to have a tough time pulling you out of the window if the roof of the car has been crushed, especially if you have a potential spinal injury. As someone put it, “As an ex-ambulance driver, it felt terrible to watch a patient dying inside a locked car where CPR could not be administered.” EMT’s and other safety personnel won’t have a problem getting you out through your seat belt; that’s one reason they have knives and shears, to cut through them. In the unlikely event you are in a serious car accident, the difference between getting out of the car when you need to, and not being able to can make all the difference. Please unlock your doors.

Do yourself a favor and unlock your doors whenever you get in your vehicle. The main reason people lock their car doors? It’s because it makes them feel safer. Please note the wording of that last sentence. It does not make you any safer, but people feel safer. It’s an illusion, and in fact will usually make you less safe in your vehicle. Don’t be at the mercy of your emotions, use your brain! The purpose of door locks is to protect your vehicle when you are away from it, not when you are in it. For those reading this that can’t help but think of scenarios whereby locking the doors could be a good idea, let me see if I can address them.

“But what if I’m driving in an unsafe neighborhood?” I will limit my response to scenarios in the US, which is where I live. I don’t know what it’s like driving down the road in Pakistan, and I don’t know how driving works in Mongolia (do they even have cars? Anyone living in Ulaanbaatar feel free to get back to me). Having your doors unlocked is not really a liability. People walking up to cars and yanking them out doesn’t happen that often, largely because of the invention of seat belts. If someone is going to carjack you, they will use a gun. Having your doors locked does you no good when a pistol is aimed at your head at a stop light or in a parking lot–you unlock the door yourself and give them what they want. Here’s a link to a good story on how to avoid carjacking, and having your doors locked has nothing to do with it. I’m not going to quibble about people who doggedly decide to lock their doors in rough neighborhoods or a major metropolis, this is the situation that I can most understand–but it’s still not protecting you as much as you think. Please unlock your doors.

“But what if I have young kids in the car?” If you have toddlers, they should be in the infant car seat where they can’t get out anyway. If you have older kids that’s what child safety locks for, they’ve been around since the early 80’s. Use them! If you don’t, depending on the model of your car someone in the back seat can open their door from the inside even if the car doors are locked anyway, so there really is no excuse. Please unlock your doors.

“Doesn’t having your car doors locked prevent you being thrown clear in an accident?” No. That’s what seat belts prevent. Wear your seat belt! It’s difficult to think of a scenario where a person is thrown sideways into their car door and having it locked magically saves their life. Locked or unlocked, that car door is staying shut; anything with enough force to crack open the door will either kill you anyway, or be unaffected by whether it’s locked or not. The federal government has set safety standards for door latches that are very strict; doors almost never open anymore due to the force of the crash itself. Even if they did, your seat belt will keep you in the car. People being ‘thrown clear’ in the event of an accident has nothing to do with car doors, it’s to do with whether or not they were wearing their seat belt. Please unlock your doors.

“There must be a reason it’s standard to automatically lock the car doors on almost all modern cars!” There is, but not a good one. Remember that “almost never” part? As I researched I found what the deal was on the cartalk website: “The one weak link is the door handle and the rods that it connects to. If your car is moving very fast at the time of a crash, the inertia can [potentially] move that handle or the rods it attaches to in the door, and that can unlatch the door — as if you’d pulled the handle. If a door is locked, the handle becomes inoperative. You can pull on it or push on it, but it’s detached from the rods that activate the latch, and the door won’t open.” For those of you waiting and hoping to see if there’s a reason not to change your minds or your behavior, this is all there is. There is a tiny possibility that this can happen. I looked and could not find a single example where this has occurred. Even in that scenario however, you will be kept in the car by your seat belt. Please unlock your doors.

*Takes a big exhale* Okay, got that out of my system. Thanks for reading my extended rant. As with all of my blog posts, keep in mind what Dennis Miller says: this is just my opinion, and I could be wrong.


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