Reinforced car windows could prevent up to 1,300 fatalities annually

Only windshields required by law to be shatter-proof

By Eryka Washington - Investigative Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - A 25 year old driver of an SUV was thrown from his car, killing him on impact; a woman driving on the turnpike was thrown from her car and killed; and, in another fatal accident on Florida roadways, a driver in Volusia County lost control of his SUV on I-4 and was also ejected.

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These tragic accidents all have one thing in common; the victims were thrown through a side or back window.

And here's the problem: The windshield is the only window required by law to have safety glass.

That means there's a layer of plastic between the panes of glass — preventing someone or something from punching through it.

Safety glass breaks but doesn't shatter.

All other windows in a vehicle have tempered glass, which has no plastic in the middle to prevent shattering.

"The major type of incident we see is rollover accident where a belted person gets partially ejected either their head or their body and have fatal injuries," says Henry Didier, a product-safety attorney.

Didier says the side and back windows of a car are a hidden danger.

"If there was safety glass, it would prevent 80 percent of ejections," he said.

A National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration study estimated that up to 1,300 fatalities and more than 1,000 crippling injuries would be prevented every year if all windows were made from safety glass.

In 2012, more than 100 people were ejected through a windshield, versus nearly 1,000 people ejected through a vehicle's side window.

In 2011, 126 people were ejected through the windshield, versus roughly 950 through the vehicle side window.

Congressman John Mica says of the numbers: "If we are losing people at the record you have cited here, I think that is something we need to look at in the next transportation bill."

When asked why vehicles aren't required to have safety glass on all windows, Mica said: "If the department of transportation is not setting standards to require safety glass that can save lives in a reasonable fashion, then congress needs to act and we should act."

Cost concerns could be inhibiting action regarding upping side-window safety, according to a 2002 report from NHTSA.

NHTSA estimates it would cost between $48 and $79 to modify two framed, front side windows.

But Didier believes if people knew the dangers, they would pay for the protection.

"Most people don't realize the difference in an accident that safety glass can make in protecting them," Didier said. "That's the biggest issue is just knowledge."

A second issue cited in that 2002 report was safety.

Research showed that neck injuries can result when a person's head hits the glass without being able to pass through it.

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued rules requiring other safety measures, such as side curtain air bags, to keep passengers at least 4 inches from the side-window opening.

While safety glass is slowly becoming an option, so far it's only available in high-end vehicles such as Lexus and Mercedes.

However, windows can be retrofitted with safety glass.

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