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Enhanced Safety Or Dangerous Drawback: A Closer Look At Laminated Glass Windows

Posted August 29, 2019

With all the flashy hi-tech safety features available in modern cars, it’s easy to overlook (or, rather, “look through”) a major innovation in the field: glass windows. That’s right, the way your car windows are designed could make all the difference in the event of a crash.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force/Christopher Ruano/Released (Public Domain via

Unfortunately, many people mistakenly believe all car windows are made with tempered glass (aka safety glass). According to a recent AAA report, however, laminated glass is swiftly becoming the dominant material for windows in the auto industry. Knowing the pros and cons of these two glasses will become increasingly important for drivers and automakers moving forward.

Anyone unfamiliar with the differences between tempered and laminated glass should take a few moments to review the info presented below. Understanding the basics of these materials will dramatically improve your sense of safety on the roads.

The Basics: What Is Laminated Glass?

Laminated glass gets its name from a sheet of plastic laminate that’s inserted between two layers of glass. This plastic laminate improves the durability of these windows making them incredibly difficult to break.

Unlike tempered glass, which shatters into countless tiny pieces upon impact, it takes a lot of effort to break through laminated glass. If laminated glass breaks, however, it falls apart in larger sized chunks. Tempered glass, on the other hand, is designed to break into extremely fine fragments that won’t harm passengers or drivers.

Although a few automakers started using laminated glass in the 70s, these windows have become increasingly common in the new millennium. Statistics published in AAA’s report suggest one in three cars made in 2018 had laminated glass. Although laminated glass is most often used on side windows, it’s not rare for a car’s rear window to be made from laminated glass.

The Big Pros For Using Laminated Glass

A Reduced Chance Of Vehicular Ejection:
The major benefit of using laminated glass is it prevents crash-related ejection. Indeed, the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently discovered people involved in crashes had an over 60 percent reduced risk of dying from ejection if their car’s windows were made of laminated glass. These findings led the NHTSA to create a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard in 2011 listed as No. 226. Commonly called the “Ejection Mitigation” rule, this NHTSA standard called on automakers to create cars with features to prevent ejection.

Although laminated glass appears to have great safety benefits, safety belts and airbags also help dramatically reduce the risk of vehicular ejection. Indeed, a recent study out of San Antonio’s Biodynamic Research Corporation found using seatbelts was the most effective way to reduce the risk of partial or complete ejection in a rollover crash. Obviously, the best safety strategy is to use all three of these preventative measures at the same time.

A Natural Theft Deterrent:
Since it’s so difficult to bust laminated glass, these windows also help keep your valuables safe from bad guys. Even with hammers, crowbars, and specially designed punch tools, thieves will need to hit your car’s laminated glass windows multiple times to gain entry. By contrast, it’s quick and easy for criminals to demolish tempered glass and flee the scene in a flash.

Laminated glass buys you the necessary time to alert authorities who can (hopefully) apprehend criminals before they get away. It’s also more likely locals will notice someone trying to get into a vehicle with laminated glass than with tempered glass. So, while no glass is really “thief proof,” laminated glass is certainly “thief resistant.”

Promotes A Quieter Ride:
Aside from protecting your life and your valuables, car manufacturers point out that laminated glass can provide drivers with a soothing, silent ride. Compared with tempered glass, laminated glass is extremely effective at dampening outdoor noise.

Although this pro might not be as significant as the other two benefits listed above, it’s certainly good news for both rider comfort and manufacturing cost. Since the laminated glass works so well at cutting out external noise, manufacturers don’t have to spend extra on special padding designs.

Drawbacks Of Using Laminated Glass

Dangerous In Drowning & Fire Escapes:
Because laminated glass was primarily designed to keep drivers and passengers inside, it makes sense these windows aren’t ideal when you need to break out of your vehicle fast. The two examples AAA brings up include drowning and vehicular fire.

Many people have probably seen the video of a Spokane officer breaking through a laminated side window to save a woman trapped in a burning vehicle. Thankfully, the officer was eventually able to break this window with his baton and rush the driver to safety. Had this window been tempered glass, however, it would’ve made the officer’s job easier.

Despite these harrowing news reports, agencies like the NHTSA still favor laminated glass. Keep in mind roughly 32,000 Americans are killed in motor vehicle crashes per year. By contrast, recent studies show less than 1 percent of US vehicular fatalities involve drowning. Since traffic crashes are more common, the NHTSA reasons preventing partial or complete ejections is a smarter safety strategy.

Hard To Break In “Hot Car” Scenarios:

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about toddlers and pets trapped in vehicles exposed to direct sunlight. Sadly, this phenomenon is reaching epidemic proportions all across the USA. The National Safety Council says a record 53 children were killed in “hot vehicle” deaths in 2018.

One way Good Samaritans try to save these victims is by breaking a window and unlocking the vehicle. Obviously, it’s far more difficult to break a laminated glass window compared with tempered glass.

At the present moment, it’s illegal for Washington residents to break another person’s car windows if they see a child or pet inside. Instead, citizens are encouraged to call 911 and listen to what emergency personnel has to say.

Health authorities strongly advise parents and guardians to always look behind them before leaving their vehicle in a dangerously hot area. For more critical information on heat-related issues, please visit this CDC webpage.

Further Research On Laminated Glass

Now that you know all about laminated glass, it’s a good idea to check your owner’s manual or call your car’s manufacturer for details on your windows. After you know what glass was used in your car’s design, consider putting together an emergency protocol. To learn more about laminated glass, be sure to read through AAA’s full report on this PDF. You could also learn helpful safety strategies for breaking glass windows on this AAA article.

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