'Locked the keys in the car,eh?'
Dozens of motorists forced to break into their vehicles

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 17/98) - It happens to the best of us. You are in a restaurant enjoying a cup of coffee. Then you leave, head to the car, reach into your pocket, dig around for your keys and a sinking feeling comes over you. The keys are in the ignition and the doors are locked.

John Beckwith, owner of Western Arctic Lock and Safe, gets between 10 and 15 distress calls a week during winter from drivers locked out of their automobiles. In summer the number is reduced to about four or five a week.

"There are people who would break a vent window or a back window and get in. But, as soon as you want to replace that window it's costing you a $250 deductible on your insurance," said Beckwith.

"If you want to throw away 250 bucks, it's immaterial to me, where we only charge $45 to let you in."

Given a little time any car lock can be cracked.

Beckwith said newer vehicles are coming out with anti-theft devices that will not allow a lock to open the old way like with a "slim jim," a thin, flat, notched strip of metal designed to slip down a car door's window slot and trigger locking mechanisms.

What about taking matter into your own hands with a wire coat-hanger?

Pauline Ho, owner of Ryan's Restaurant, said almost every day one or two people during the colder months come into her restaurant looking for a wire hanger.

"Usually I would try and look for one for them but now they're all gone. Nothing left," she said.

At the front of the restaurant, previous owners installed hangers fixed to the rod, perhaps to deter people from taking the hangers, she said.

Beckwith said with newer vehicles, hangers will not work. They're not strong enough.

"They have taken the little knobs off the locking levers and converted them over to slide levers," said Beckwith.

The automobile industry is continually advancing and developing ways to prevent accidental lock-outs. For instance, some higher-end General Motors vehicles have On-Star systems.

Using a built-in global positioning satellite system, a person can use a cellular telephone, call On-Star and a computer can locate the car anywhere the world, give road directions and -- here's the nifty part -- even unlock car doors.

Other automobiles with anti-theft security systems will not allow doors to be locked if the key is left in the ignition. That's what meant by idiot-proof.

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