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Vehicle escape tools don't work on laminated windows

car windshield with large crack
Adobe Stock

A new study by AAA finds that vehicle escape tools do not work on laminated glass. And fully a third of 2018 vehicle models had laminated glass not just on the front windshield, but all of the side windows.

Vehicle escape tools are intended to help someone break a window if they are trapped in a car, for example, if it catches on fire and the doors won't open, or if the car becomes submerged in water.

AAA tested six different vehicle escape tools. Four were able to break regular tempered glass – the kind that is very common on the side windows of older cars.

"But none were able to break laminated glass, which stayed intact even after being cracked," says AAA's Adrienne Woodland.

Woodland says some cars have both kinds of glass, but on different windows, so people should know which is which. Usually, the window is stamped with the kind of glass it's made of. If not, you can lower the window a little and look at the edge. If it has layers, it is laminated.

Laminated glass consists of two layers, with an inner plastic layer. Such glass is extremely strong, and it  can keep people from being thrown out of a car in a crash.

Automakers are increasingly using laminated glass for side windows, to protect people from being thrown out of a car after a crash. About 5,000 people die every year in accidents where they are thrown from the vehicle, compared to about 1,800 people who die in accidents after they become trapped in the car.

People can still escape from a car with all laminated windows that is submerged in water, if they remain calm, unbuckle all the passengers, and wait. Once the water level inside the car is fairly high, the doors can usually be pushed open, allowing for escape.

In the event of a fire, specialized equipment is usually necessary to break and then cut through laminated windows. 

Otherwise, the best chance people have in that case is to crack the laminated window multiple times to weaken it, then kick it out in one piece.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.