One often overlooked aspect of vehicle safety is the type of glass used in the vehicle. While consumers are more and more aware of the importance of seatbelts and airbags, the type of glass in their windows is likely not at the forefront of their minds. Safety experts, however, believe that laminated glass should be used in more vehicle windows to save lives and prevent injuries. Laminated glass can be especially critical to prevent ejection during a rollover accident.
What is Laminated Glass?
Laminated glass consists of two layers of glass which are bonded together with a tough, pliable, and invisible layer of plastic film, usually “polyvinyl butyral.” This is also referred to as “glazing.” This type of glass has been around since the 1920’s. In 1968, all cars were required to have laminated glass in the windshields because it resists penetration better than other forms of glass.
Laminated glass is designed to keep occupants in vehicles and foreign objects out. When impacted, instead of shattering off or breaking into shards, laminated glass remains adhered to the plastic. Other benefits to using laminated glass include solar protection and security from thieves, but ejection prevention and safety are the major benefits of laminated glass.
Does Your Vehicle Have Laminated Glass?
Even though windshields must be made with laminated glass, there is no equivalent requirement for side and rear windows. Side and rear windows are often made out of tempered glass. Tempered glass is made by heating and rapidly cooling the glass; this process makes glass stronger than ordinary glass. However, tempered glass is much easier to penetrate than laminated glass.
It is unlikely that many cars have laminated glass anywhere other than in the windshield, however the use of laminated glass in other windows is on the rise. At the 2007 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), forty vehicles had laminated glass in side windows, rear windows, and roof applications, whereas five years ago, only three vehicle platforms worldwide utilized laminated glass in windows other than the windshield.
One way consumers can tell whether their vehicle’s side windows are made out of laminated glass is by checking for markings. “AS-1” means the glass is laminated, “AS-2” means the glass is tempered.
The Enhanced Protective Glass Automotive Association (EPGAA) is a group of glass and laminate providers who educate consumers and the automotive industry on the benefits of using enhanced protective glass in side and rear windows, as well as roof applications. The EPGAA states that laminated glass has been used in windshields for over 70 years and recommends its use in other windows as well. The EPGAA cites five major benefits of laminated glass: (1) safety, by reducing occupant ejection; (2) security, by protecting the vehicle from thieves; (3) sound reduction, because the interlayer keeps the interior quieter; (4) thermally, by adding coatings to block IR heat energy; and (5) ultraviolet protection, by screening up to 98 percent of damaging UV rays, whereas tempered glass only screens about 66 percent.
Injury and Death Prevention
Tempered glass in side and rear windows allows for more injuries and more ejections. The myth about tempered glass not cutting people is false. Tempered glass can lacerate faces, injure eyes, and severely scar accident victims. Patrick Ardis, a leading attorney in glass litigation, states that there are over 400,000 documented cases of lacerations each year.
Because of the prevalence of tempered glass in side and rear windows in many vehicles today, occupant ejections and partial ejection-related injuries and deaths are common. While most people wear their seatbelts, twenty-seven percent of Americans do not wear their seatbelts. Gerald Donaldson, a senior research director at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, stated that laminated glass for side windows would help reduce thousands of deaths every year. The fact that laminated glass is harder and stronger will prevent unbelted passengers from being ejected during rollovers.
Families of people killed or seriously injured in rollovers have sued car manufacturers for not incorporating a safer type of glass in the side and rear windows.
For example, in Beaumont Texas a twenty-three year old man was a passenger in his family’s SUV when it was hit by a speeding vehicle. This young man hit the side window, which broke, and allowed him to be thrown out of the vehicle. He later died of his injuries. His parents argued that he would have survived if the side windows had been made with laminated glass as opposed to tempered glass.The family’s lawyer argued that Ford engineers “knew laminated glass was safer, but chose not to equip the Explorer with it in order to cut costs.” He has also been quoted as stating, “[l]aminated glass prevents people from going through the glass…This is not rocket science; this is very simple stuff. With laminated glass, lots of people don’t die.”
Recently there have been arguments on behalf of car manufacturers that because laminated glass is not required by the government to be in all windows that glass lawsuits should be preempted. The auto manufacturers stated that, “the government’s decision to leave existing glazing standards in place after a decade of study embodied a policy preempting state common law claims.” The Court, however, did not believe that was true, and held that the NHTSA “regulations are only intended to create a ‘minimum safety standard.’ States are free to adopt common law rules which require a greater level of safety.”Therefore, lawsuits may still be brought alleging the lack of laminated glass in a window contributed to the injury or death.
Experts have weighed in, and many believe that laminated glass will save lives and prevent injuries. Auto manufacturers continue to oppose adopting a higher standard, however, they are beginning to use laminated glass in side and rear windows in many luxury vehicles or offer it as an option for other vehicles. Those who have been killed or seriously injured may be able to seek justice from the car manufacturers if they have ignored a safety feature which could have prevented the injury or death.
Research Analysis: Laminated Glazing, Just-auto.com (Sept. 14, 2006).
 Leslie J. Allen, Despite Cost, More Carmakers Use Laminated Glass, Automotive News (Feb. 18, 2008).
Research Analysis, supra n. 1.
Allen, supra n. 3.
 Laminated Glass Gaining Ground at 2007 North American International Auto Show; More than 40 Vehicles on Display with Laminated Glass, PR Newswire (Jan. 12, 2007).
Shattered Lives: Glass Type Could Save Lives, WNBC.com, http://www.wnbc.com/print/3344754/detail.html (May 25, 2004).
 Enhanced Protective Glass Automotive Association Names New Treasurer, Board Member, PR Newswire (Dec. 4, 2007).
Laminated Glass Gaining Ground, supra n. 10.
Shattered Lives, supra n. 11.
Seat belt Usage Reaches 73-Percent, Reports NHTSA, http://usgovinfo.about.com/blagencyrelease16.htm
 Ralph Vartabedian, Your Wheels: Which Glass is Safer in a Crash? There’s No Clear Choice. Laminated Windows are Stronger—Good in a wreck but bad if you’re trapped underwater, Los Angeles Times (Mar. 21, 2007).
 Sarah Moore, Lawsuit Blames Ford Motor Co. for Death, The Beaumont Enterprise, Tribune Business News (Nov. 4, 2006).
Auto Window Standards Don’t Preempt Claim, Rules 5th Circuit , Lawyers USA (Dec. 3, 2007). SeeO’hara v. General Motors Corp., 508 F. 3d 753 (5th Cir. Tex. 2007).
Auto Window Standards, supra n. 29.