By Charles Krome
It’s a scenario all parents say could never happen to them, yet dozens of cases occur each year in this country: Children accidently die or are seriously injured from heat stroke after being left unattended in motor vehicles. When a child is left in a car, even with the windows cracked, car temperatures can quickly rise to lethal levels. It is a horrific tragedy that can happen to the best of parents: A simple change in the daycare drop-off routine, a child playing for just a moment unattended, or a “quick run into the store” ends in the unthinkable. One hope for reducing these heartbreaking accidents is to make it easier for bystanders to help. With the right know-how, you could step in and save a life.
Thankfully, a rush of states across the country—from California to Massachusetts and from Wisconsin to Florida—have made it easier this year, passing laws to eliminate criminal penalties for breaking another person’s car window (which has happened to window-breakers with even the best intentions) to rescue a child, and in some cases, pets. These states join most other states in the country, making it legal for good Samaritans to step in.
Of course, if you’re faced with a real-world emergency situation, deciding to take action may be the easy part. Actually breaking the window can be tougher than it looks.
Have the Correct Tools Handy
The side windows on today’s new vehicles are made from tempered glass, which has been specially processed to be four to five times stronger than regular glass. You’re just not going to be able to punch it out with your fist or elbow, like you see in the movies. Brute force isn’t the answer either. The trick to breaking tempered glass is to use something with a relatively narrow point, so you focus as much force into the smallest possible area.
In fact, there are specific tools designed just for breaking auto glass in emergencies, and these are great resources to have in your own vehicle’s emergency kit (an important topic for another day). You can find them in most auto or hardware stores. If you don’t have quick access to one of these tools, a hammer or tire iron from your trunk can be useful alternatives. Keep in mind that, for all its strength, tempered glass will shatter easier than the traditional stuff if you hit it in the right place.
Know Where to Break
The right place, for car windows, is at one of the corners. Ideally, you’ll want to pick a window that’s on the opposite side of the car from the child. Tempered glass is designed to break into tiny pieces that are less dangerous than large shards, yet it’s best not to take chances with glass flying toward a child.
In a typical situation, with a kid in the back seat behind the front passenger, you should try to break the driver’s side window. This also gives you easy access to the master buttons for unlocking the doors in many vehicles.
Aim at the lower right-hand corner of the window as you’re facing the vehicle. If you’re using a punch-style tool engineered for the job, try propping your wrists or arms against the door frame or pillar, so your hands don’t end up going through the window when it breaks. If you’re swinging a heavy object like a tire iron, the safest approach for a right-hander is a back-handed swing, with the person standing toward the rear of the vehicle to avoid flying glass. It’s a good idea to wear gloves and protect your eyes, if possible.
Complete the Rescue
You’ll also need to be careful with the window once it’s broken. If the glass shatters, be sure to clear any leftover bits from the frame before you reach in to unlock the doors. If the side windows are laminated, they’ll be made of two pieces of glass with a thin piece of plastic sandwiched between them. With those windows, you’re likely to make a hole without the glass falling apart, since the plastic keeps everything together for safety reasons. Your safest move in this case is to use something to pull the broken sheet of glass outward so that it falls off onto the ground.
If you do have to break the rear glass for a back-seat rescue, don’t rush to take the child out through the window. Some sharp edges could remain despite your best efforts. Try to unlock and open the door instead.
Finally, it’s vital to call 911 as quickly as you can, even before you start trying to get into the car. That doesn’t mean waiting for first responders before attempting to break a window, though. The whole point of the new “good Samaritan” laws is to encourage people to get involved quickly, when minutes really count.
The sooner the experts arrive, the better. If the child’s still in the car when they get on the scene, they’ll have the tools and know-how for a rescue. If the child is out, they’ll be able to immediately begin giving medical care and prevent another needless statistic from occurring.
Charles Krome is an automotive journalist for CARFAX He is passionate about building consumer awareness about automotive issues that impact family safety and car value.