As an indicator of winter, locksmiths say it’s as reliable as wind, ice, snow and cold. People are locking themselves out of their warming-up cars — in droves.

A half-dozen Omaha-area locksmiths reported getting a deluge of calls Monday from customers who’d locked themselves out of running vehicles, many doing so while scraping off the snow and freezing drizzle. Pop-A-Lock locksmith Jeffery Morton and a co-worker responded to about 30 lockout calls during their 12-hour shift. Monday, he said, “was a bit of a bear.”

One woman called from a gas station a couple of blocks from an Interstate 29 off-ramp, Morton said. She had jumped out of her car on the ramp to clear her windshield but locked herself out. The idling car remained on the ramp until locksmiths saved the day. “It’s a little of people being in a hurry and stress from the weather,” Morton said. “And some of it is a little absentmindedness.”

A dispatcher for Pop-A-Lock Locksmith said the Omaha area had received 93 calls regarding vehicle lockouts by late Monday afternoon. Locksmiths said most of the calls came from homes and businesses where drivers simply forgot that the lock was engaged when they closed the door to clean off a frozen windshield.

“More than one, oh yeah,” said Tracy Plymesser of All Hours Locksmiths. “It is very common.” Plymesser and her husband handle all the company’s calls. They said the slick streets made traveling to lockouts a hazardous affair.

“We were able to get around pretty well last week because our vehicles have all-wheel drive, but (Monday) getting around was tough,” she said. Some locksmiths said the icy streets led to service delays or even outright refusals of service because of limited manpower.

Even those who don’t regularly open locked cars reported plenty of inquiries — but calling 911 isn’t the best idea.
The Omaha Police Department has lockout kits available at precinct offices, but officers will unlock a vehicle only if there’s an emergency requiring immediate vehicle entry. The most common emergency is when a child is accidentally locked inside and it’s dangerously cold or hot outside, said Officer Jacob Bettin, a police spokesman.

Officers will tell callers to contact a locksmith if there’s no emergency, Bettin said. Lockout services can cost anywhere from $40 to more than $100, depending on the type of vehicle, its location and the time of day. As it turns out, bad weather makes for good business. “We can always count on a higher income ratio in the winter,” Plymesser said.

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