PORTLAND, Ore., – New research from AAA reveals that most vehicle escape tools, intended to quickly help passengers trapped in a car following an accident, will break tempered side windows, but none were able to penetrate laminated glass. Drivers may not realize that an increasing number of new cars – in fact, one in three 2018 vehicle models – have laminated side windows, a nearly unbreakable glass meant to lessen the chance of a person being ejected during a crash.
AAA urges drivers to know what type of side window glass is installed on their vehicle, keep a secure and easily accessible escape tool in their car and have a backup plan in case an escape tool cannot be used or doesn’t work.
In its latest study, AAA examined a selection of vehicle escape tools available to consumers to determine their effectiveness in breaking tempered and laminated vehicle side windows. Of the six tools selected (three spring-loaded and three hammer style), AAA researchers found that only four were able to shatter the tempered glass and none were able to break the laminated glass, which stayed intact even after being cracked. During multiple rounds of testing, it was also discovered that the spring-loaded tools were more effective in breaking tempered windows than the hammer-style.
Examples of a spring-loaded style (top) and hammer style (bottom) window-breaking tools. The AAA Travel Store carries spring-loaded and hammer escape tools with member prices from $10.95 to $11.95. Visit your local AAA branch to purchase.
“To improve safety, more vehicles are being equipped with laminated side windows – but a majority also have at least one window made of tempered glass,” said John Nielsen, managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair for AAA. “Our research found that generally vehicle escape tools can be effective in an emergency, but only if drivers know what type of side windows they have, otherwise they could waste precious seconds trying to break glass that will not shatter.”
The AAA research found that no vehicle escape tools were able to penetrate laminated glass.
Drivers can determine the type of glass installed on their vehicle by first checking for a label located in the bottom corner of the side window, which should clearly indicate whether the glass is tempered or laminated. If this information is not included or there is no label at all, AAA advises contacting the vehicle manufacturer. It is also important to note that some vehicles are outfitted with different glass at varying locations in the car (i.e. tempered glass on rear side windows versus laminated on front side windows).
The increased use of laminated glass is in response to federal safety standards aimed at reducing occupant ejections in high speed collisions. In 2017, there were an estimated 21,400 people who were partially or fully ejected during a crash, resulting in 11,200 injuries and 5,053 deaths. While these types of crashes are more prevalent, there are instances where vehicles may catch fire or become partially or fully submerged in water, forcing drivers and their passengers to exit the vehicle through a side window. In situations like this, vehicle escape tools can assist ahead of emergency responders arriving.
Vehicle escape tools come in many varieties, but AAA suggests avoiding tools with extra features such as lights or chargers since these functions do not improve the performance of the tool itself. Drivers should also remember that in the event their vehicle is submerged, a hammer-style escape tool (as opposed to a spring-loaded-style) will be ineffective underwater.
“Pick a tool that you’re comfortable with and find easy to use. Most importantly, keep it in your vehicle in a place that’s very easy and quick for you to reach,” says Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho. “Being prepared in an emergency can greatly improve your chances of survival, especially if you and your passengers have become trapped in the vehicle.”
AAA’s advice for drivers:
Prepare ahead of time:
- Know the type of glass your vehicle windows are made of – tempered or laminated. If the car has at least one tempered window, this will be the best point of exit in an emergency. Also, remember – standard escape tools will not break laminated glass.
- Keep an escape tool in the car that the driver is comfortable using, has previously tested and is easy to access following a collision. To make sure a vehicle escape tool is working properly, test it ahead of time on a softer surface such as a piece of soft wood. The tool works if the tip impacts the surface, leaving a small indent in the material.
- Plan an exit strategy in advance and communicate it to everyone in the car. This will help avoid confusion in an emergency, which could increase the time it takes to exit the vehicle. Also, have a backup plan in case an escape tool cannot be used or doesn’t work.
If trapped in a vehicle, remember there is a S-U-R-E way out:
- Stay calm. While time is of the essence – work cautiously to ensure everyone safely exits the vehicle.
- Unbuckle or cut seat belts and check to see that everyone is ready to leave the car when it’s time.
- Roll down or break a window – remember if the car is sinking in water, once the window is open the water will rush into the car at a faster rate. If the window will not open and the car has tempered glass, use an escape tool to break a side window to escape. Drivers should also remember that:
- If a window will not open or cannot be broken because it is laminated, everyone should move to the back of the vehicle or wherever an air pocket is located. Stay with it until all of the air has left the vehicle. Once this happens, the pressure should equalize, allowing occupants to open a door and escape.
- If the vehicle is submerged, a hammer-style escape tool (as opposed to a spring-loaded-style) could be much harder to swing underwater.
- Exit the vehicle quickly and move everyone to safety.
- Call 911 – while this is typically the first step in an emergency, if a vehicle has hit the water or is on fire, it is best to try to escape first.
The seat belt-cutting component of most vehicle escape tools consists of a recessed blade used to catch the belt and slice through the material. The blade is recessed to prevent injury to the user while allowing the belt material to slide into it.
For testing methodology, please refer to the complete report.
AAA provides more than 59 million members with automotive, travel, insurance and financial services through its federation of 34 motor clubs and nearly 1,100 branch offices across North America. Since 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for safe mobility. Drivers can request roadside assistance, identify nearby gas prices, locate discounts, book a hotel or map a route via the AAA Mobile app. To join, visit AAA.com.
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