How to Avoid Locking Your Kids in the Car

A couple weeks ago, T and I were planning on going to storytime. We didn’t realize most library branches take a break from storytime in May. We were already running late. I always put my keys and cell phone on top of my car while I’m getting T in and out. T was out of the car, trying to decide which of her buddies she wanted to take into the library with her. I had just tossed my keys in the giant bag that was slung over my shoulder when another mom told me there was no storytime today.

T proceeded to melt down, as only 2-year-olds can. While fighting my flailing toddler who wanted to “watch oovie” (this particular storytime always plays a video of a story being read at the end), I made plans to drive a short distance and meet some other moms at a playground instead. My purse was getting in the way as I tried to strap T back into her car seat. So, I reached over and dropped my bag into the passenger seat. I shut her door and walked around the car. That’s when I discovered I had already locked the car. 

In that first panicked moment, I ran around trying every door including the trunk. I flagged down another mom and proudly looked/sounded absolutely hysterical. I told her I had locked my baby in the car and I didn’t know what to do. I’ll admit it made me feel (slightly) better when she said, “I don’t know either. I’ll call my mom.” 

Her mom informed us that we just needed to call the police station and they would take care of everything. Luckily, it was a cool day and my car was in the shade. T was playing contentedly with an armload of stuffed animals as I dialed 911 and explained the situation, trying desperately not to sound like a horrible mother. 

A firetruck arrived in less than 5 minutes. One had me sign a liability waiver and reassured me that this happens more than you would think, so I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. The other 2 used some special tools designed specifically for this scenario. They were able to pry the driver’s door open just enough to be able to reach the door unlock buttons with some sort of stick. 

For an hour after getting T out of the car, I was afraid to put her back in it. I called my dad and one of my oldest friends for reassurance while T sat at a picnic table and ate every snack in my bag, blissfully unaware that anything abnormal had happened.

We were lucky. It was not a hot day. There were other people around to assist me. And emergency services were able to respond quickly. On a different day, in a different place, we might not have been so lucky. Here are some things I will be doing differently to try to prevent something like this from happening again:

  1. I had a copy of my car key made. It is now in a magnetic box hidden somewhere on the outside of my car. 
  2. I am making a greater effort to remember to leave my keys and phone on top of my car until T and I are both completely out of the car and the doors are shut. It is recommended to have your keys in your hand at all times, but I have dropped my keys so many times trying to wrangle a toddler. It is easier and safer, for me to leave everything on top of the car. It’s also beneficial for me to keep the keys out of T’s reach.
  3. When possible, I leave at least one window slightly cracked. In case I was unable to locate the hide-a-key, having a window cracked means airflow and an easier way to reach in and unlock the car. I realize this poses a potential risk of someone else reaching in and unlocking my car, so I don’t do this everywhere. I try to only roll the window down a tiny bit.
  4. T isn’t old enough or big enough yet to be able to open her own door or reach the window. However, as she gets older I plan to teach her how to open the door herself. I may even color code the unlock button on the driver’s door. That way, if she can get out of her car seat to the front of the car, she can push the button herself. 

Has something like this happened to you? What other suggestions do you have for avoiding/remedying a situation like this?


  1. This must have been terrifying and so glad everything turned out the way it did. These are great tips!!!

  2. Know the township the parks you frequent are located in. My husband locked my daughter in the car when we lived in MO. She was 4 but unable to unbuckle the bottom part of her seat and couldn’t reach the door. I called 911 and the county operator needed to know which township I was in, the name of the Park was not enough. I ended up having to hang up and google the park then call back. It was frustrating and in a more intense emergency could have been devastating

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