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Can You Suffocate in a Car Trunk?


Getting locked in a car trunk seems like a scary experience. Aside from the darkness, there also appears to be a possibility of suffocation. So how true is this? Can you suffocate in a car trunk?

The answer is yes, there’s a possibility of suffocation in a car trunk. However, for that to happen every opening in the trunk must have been carefully sealed.

While suffocating in a car trunk is possible, the most likely cause of death will be heatstroke. On a sunny day, the temperature in a car trunk can rise to over 120 degrees within an hour, which is a heat level that can kill a person.

Legality Of Riding In A Car Trunk

In the United States, it’s illegal for a person to ride in a car trunk. The trunk is amongst the several places where it’s expressly forbidden for passengers to ride.


Additionally, the law prohibits a driver from allowing someone to ride in a trunk and the law also prohibits a passenger from willingly choosing to ride in the trunk.

An extract from the vehicle code provides as follows:

  • A person shall not ride on a vehicle or upon a portion of a vehicle not designed or intended for the use of passengers.
  • A person driving a motor vehicle shall not knowingly permit a person to ride in the trunk of that motor vehicle.
  • A person shall not ride in the trunk of a motor vehicle.

The likelihood of death resulting from riding in a car is the reason the law prohibits such an act. The trunk is a dangerous place to ride because it lacks protective features such as a seat belt and airbag.

Emergency Release Features For Trunk

Due to the dangers of getting locked in the trunk, there is a need for an emergency trunk release. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) NO. 401 provides that all cars must have a release latch inside the trunk release.

The law requires that all cars must have a standard glow-in-the-dark trunk release lever that opens the car from the inside. This lever comes in handy in a situation of emergency thus eliminating the possibility of death.

How To Prevent Getting Stuck In A Trunk

Let’s face it, not being able to get out of a trunk isn’t an experience anyone wishes for. Therefore, it’s a situation where prevention is honestly better than cure.

The NHTSA provides ways you can prevent adults and kids from getting stuck in a trunk. The preventing guidelines include the following:

  • You should teach children the trunk isn’t a conducive space for humans and animals. They need to understand that the trunk isn’t a place they should play hide and seek.
  • It’s important that you keep an eye on kids when they’re playing around cars. This way, you can quickly caution them when they’re messing around with the trunk.
  • Ensure you lock your car doors and keep the keys safe out of the reach of children.
  • You should always lock up the rear fold-down seats to keep kids from climbing into the trunk from inside the car.
  • It’s essential that your trunk have an escape latch for emergencies. Also teach kids how to use the escape latch, however, ensure the kid is old enough to appreciate the lesson.

If your car didn’t come with an emergency release latch, you can buy one online. You can easily install the latch to your car yourself.

What To Do If You Get Stuck In A Car Trunk

No one hopes to get caught in a car trunk but if you find yourself in such a situation, you need to know how to swiftly get out of the trunk.


Although we hope you never get to need these tips, here are the tips you can use to free yourself from a car trunk.

Emergency Car Trunk Escape Latch

The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) NO. 401 provides that every car made post-September 1, 2001, must have an internal trunk release latch. The common type of release latch comes in a T shape that glows in the dark. If you pull the latch, the trunk should easily pop right open.

Some cars have the emergency latch hanging from the top of the trunk lid. While in other cars, you can find it inside the luggage compartment near the taillights.

Try The Back Seats

Most cars have fold-down rear seats that allow you to bend the seat and access the trunk. If there’s no one sitting on the back seat, pushing and kicking against them can cause it to bend.

Trunk Release Cable

Older cars have a remote release lever that uses a solenoid to pop the latch open. Try to find the physical cable and pull it with force and the trunk might open.

Remove The Tail Lights

You need all the oxygen you can get so removing the brake lights will help increase the flow of air. Tail lights are easy to remove so you don’t need any tools for this. If you can forcefully remove the brake light, you can use the opportunity to call for help.

Use The Jack To Pop The Trunk

You will need to be in luck to pull this off, however, it’s worth the shot. If you can find a scissors jack in the trunk, place the scissors jack close to the boot lock and use maximum force to pop the trunk open.

Call For Help

If all else fails, you will need to call for help. If you have a phone on you, calling 911 should actually be top of the list. However, if you don’t have a phone on you, try to attract attention by kicking on the trunk and making as much noise as possible.


While the risk of suffocation in the trunk is minimal, the risk does exist. Aside from suffocation, there is also the possibility of getting heatstroke. Therefore, you must take steps to prevent the possibility of getting stuck in a trunk.

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