When And How To Smash A Window To Rescue A Child Or Pet Locked In A Hot Car

Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty

Before becoming a rescuing Samaritan, it’s important to know when to take this course of action. And that can be complex.

Is It Legal To Break A Car Window To Rescue An Overheated Pet?

Picture the scene: You're strolling down the street on a hot summer's day when you spot a dog locked in a car, clawing pitifully at the window. It is clearly in distress and the temperature is rising rapidly. Is it legal to break the window, or does the law dictate you allow the dog to die?

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If you see a child alone in a car, and that child looks alert, cool and comfortable, you can — warning: This advice is hotly contested across the internet — wait a few minutes for the adult to return. I know I’d like to live in a community that watches out for our children and gives parents the benefit of the doubt, but that’s probably best left for a different debate.

Now, if you see a child or a pet that looks to be in danger, and there are no unlocked doors, it’s an entirely different story. According to the NRMA, the first thing you should do if a pet is in distress is call 000. Emergency services will come and smash the window for you.

If it's a child, the NRMA says to assess the urgency and decide whether to call 000 or smash the window yourself. If it's a life or death situation, you may have to do it yourself and call an ambulance.

Either way, you should call emergency services. Margaret Stewart, spokesperson for the Los Angeles Fire Department, confirmed this to me. “If you see someone in distress, always call 911 immediately,” she said. “The dispatcher will assess the situation.” Australians should call 000.

Though it's still technically illegal to smash the windows of someone's car, it's unlikely the police will press charges due to the circumstances, regardless of if you're rescuing a pet or a child.

If you have not been given specific instructions on how to smash the window, here are some tips.

  • Use a very fine, hard point. Safety glass is made to withstand blunt forces, so pounding a window with your fists or a rubber mallet won’t get you anywhere.

    In this video, Brian Brushwood, host of the National Geographic show Hacking the System, demonstrates how to take a a spark plug, smash a bit of porcelain off of it, and use that to shatter the glass.

    If you want to always have a tool like this handy, you can buy a keychain escape tool.

  • You can also try using the prongs of a headrest.  
  • Aim for the bottom corner, near the door handle. Captain Paul Garrison of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office tells NuggetNews.com, “It’s preferably the best way to go; it’s easier to break out. One thing people should be concerned about is breaking the window as far away from the child or animal as possible so they don’t end up with broken glass on them.”

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