The safety of a locked car door

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Door Handle

A locked door makes your vehicle safer than an unlocked door. Image: Flickr / born1945 / CC-BY-SA

Vehicles are designed for to get you from Point A to Point B and protect you in case something goes wrong. Some vehicles lock you in when your speed goes over a set point, which begs the question: is it safer to lock yourself into a moving vehicle?

Basics of vehicle structure

A vehicle is built to take an impact. The structure of a car surrounds the occupants in a cage intended to absorb impact and spread it out, rather than push it in. When a door is closed, it provides additional structural support that helps spread out the impact. The latch that keeps a door closed is built into the door and is attached to your door handle, which separates the door from the frame when you want it to.

How locking helps

Locking the vehicle door when the vehicle is moving can increase the safety of the vehicle in a crash situation. This is because the latch that holds a door closed and allows you to open it on command is a relatively small part of the door structure.

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In some accidents, this latch can be broken, and the door can come open. This breaks the continuous shell around the occupants and can cause more damage in the end. Locking the moving vehicle disables the latch that allows a door to open, helping keep it closed in the case of an accident.

Should your vehicle unlock?

Some newer vehicles have a feature that will automatically unlock a car in the event of an accident. This is so emergency responders will have an easier time accessing you in order to render aid. There is likely a time-delay built into these systems to keep the car as structurally safe as possible during an accident. The best thing to do, if your car is not equipped with this kind of a system, is to lock your vehicle when you are driving. Most emergency responders are equipped to break locks or otherwise get into vehicles when they can’t open the doors.


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