Volume 15, Issue 2 - March/April 2013

Safety Stats
Who’s Keeping Them —or Are They?

by Penny Stacey

A recent exposé by a Sacramento reporter has raised a discussion in the industry: who’s tracking faulty windshield installations? According to reporter Kurtis Ming, the answer was simple: no one.

The report estimates that 70 to 85 percent of aftermarket windshield replacements are not done properly. A survey of first responders in the report suggests the majority of first responders have seen instances when a windshield has popped out in the event of an accident.

“… But there’s no box to check on the accident reports,” says Ming. “There’s a section for seatbags, airbags, but nothing for the status of the windshields.”

The report includes an interview with a California police officer. “We’ve never been approached for that,” he says.

When it comes to the possibility of adding this to the state’s forms, he says, “It’s not difficult if it has a real[ly] good safety cause to it.”

A state senator, Jerry Hill, has joined the cause, and says he supports tracking this important safety mechanism. He’s also pushing for the state to require auto glass installer training and certification in the state. “I think that will go a long way in creating integrity in the industry,” says Hill in the report.

What about NHTSA?
While the state of California is looking at this issue, does the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) track windshield retention in accidents? Not currently. In fact, the agency has made it clear that its mandate does not include regulation of the auto glass aftermarket.

Automotive expert Ben Kelley of the Center for Product Safety found this during a study he conducted about windshield retention he conducted several years ago for the Auto Glass Safety Council™. At that time, he pointed out during a 2011 Auto Glass Week™ presentation that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has “a ways to go in this” area. “The role of the windshield in maintaining vehicle integrity has not really been addressed by NHTSA,” said Kelley.

While data is not widely available for windshields that did not maintain the proper bond in an accident, NHTSA does track fatalities and injuries by windshield ejection, according to a 2009 proposal for Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for ejection mitigation. Though the proposal mainly focused on sidelites, the proposal cited that from 1997 through 2005 and estimated that 3,488 people were injured by ejection through windshields and 1,155 were killed.

Still, news and police reports rarely (if ever) cite how or why an occupant was ejected—perhaps because first responders don’t look for this.

glassBYTEs.com™, AGRR™ magazine’s daily e-news service, has looked at a number of these instances over the years.

In 2011, a Michigan paper reported that 1993 Ford Explorer was involved in a single-car crash in which the windshield was alleged to have separated from the vehicle. While the official police statement did not contain details on the state of vehicle after the crash, a local paper reported that the car ended up “in the middle of the road, right side up, with no windshield, several blown-out windows, a flat rear driver side tire and a damaged running board.”

glassBYTEs.com was not able to confirm, however, that the displaced windshield was the result of an improper bond—due to the lack of tracking available on the topic.

Similarly, in 2008, a van carrying six students from Bowling Green University in Bowling Green, Ohio, reportedly rolled off the road near Orland, Ind., killing two of its passengers. Again, little information about the accident was released but Associated Press photos depicted the windshield laying on the ground in front of the vehicle and the roof appeared to have caved in. Was it the result of an improper bond? Due to current tracking methods, we may never know.

In October 2010, a Service AutoGlass vehicle was involved in an accident in which the windshield separated from the vehicle “in one piece.” Reporters with glassBYTEs.com™ discovered this not via the police report, however, but by contacting the tow company that rescued the truck from the scene.

“I think [the accident victim] pushed the whole windshield out,” said a representative of the tow company at the time of the accident. “We picked it up as a solid piece of glass.”

However, the police report only noted that the vehicle driver was ejected—not how it occurred.

What’s Next?
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader has called on the NHTSA to issue a consumer advisory regarding windshield replacements (and also called on the agency to introduce roof crush standards).

“Inappropriate adhesive applications, shortened drive-away times and improper glass handling techniques are just a few of the dangerous shortcuts plaguing the auto glass replacement industry and resulting in an unknown number of weak windshield installations which will not even protect occupants from the first impact in the first half roll,” wrote Nader in a letter to the agency in 2005. “Furthermore, an incorrectly mounted windshield may not even be strong enough to withstand the impact of a passenger airbag, which is designed to fire into the windshield for proper positioning. If improperly installed, a replacement windshield can literally be blown out of its mounting by passenger airbag detonation.”

He continued, “Unsafe windshield replacements have been documented by ABC’s 20/20 television news program (February 25, 2000) and have been blamed for injuries and deaths in several lawsuits. Accurate estimates of injuries due to deficient windshield installation are unavailable from NHTSA due to the highly specific nature of this uncollected data. Standard police reports do not account for windshield mounting as a cause of injury.”

No action to date has been taken by the agency.

What are you seeing in your state or area when it comes to windshield ejection reports? Do your local first-responders cite this in their reports? Please email pstacey@glass.com, as AGRR magazine continues to follow this topic.

Penny Stacey is a contributing editor for AGRR magazine.

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