This idea is nice in practice because it prevents a 75 lb bouncing ball from going down the highway into someone's windshield. The older c/k trucks and I think early 2000's didn't have the safety latch......I ended up with a 6 lug spare in my yard from a 90's Era chevy that some guy lost.
I had the same issue and I usually buy southern vehicles. I rust proof the heck out of them, but overlooked this little fella. Before a vacation I was doing my check over and couldn't get the tire down. That's when I learned about the safety latch......that was frozen. I was able to use a ratchet wrench and drop the whole assembly on the floor and cut the cable. I now make it a point to drop them annually and spray them down with grease and exercise them.
Now that you've experienced this, you'll see GM trucks and vans with a tire that's literally just hanging in the breeze when going down the road....scary and clueless drivers.