AAA study puts vehicle-escape tools under scrutiny


Staff report



COLUMBUS — Not all tools designed to help break car windows in an emergency work on all types of glass, according to a new AAA study. Consumers should be aware of what type of car windows they have and develop a plan for exiting the vehicle, in case they become trapped.

In 2017, nearly 21,000 vehicles caught fire or became partially of fully submerged in water, across the U.S., resulting in 1,800 deaths. Incidents like these become fatal when occupants are trapped and unable to exit the vehicle. Vehicle escape tools are designed to help occupants break through side windows, so they can exit the vehicle.

Not All Windows Are Made the Same:

Most vehicle side windows are made from tempered glass, which shatters when broken. However, an increasing number of vehicles are being built with laminated glass, which is nearly impossible to break.

Vehicle manufacturers are using laminated glass in response to federal safety standards aimed at reducing occupant ejections in high speed collisions, which are more common than vehicle fires or submersions. One in three new 2018 vehicle models have laminated side windows.

Testing Vehicle Escape Tools:

AAA conducted research to evaluate the effectiveness of a variety of vehicle escape tools to break both tempered and laminated side window glass. Researchers tested a total of six tools, three spring-loaded and three hammer-style. Key findings include:

  • Tempered glass – four of the six tools were successful in breaking tempered glass
  • All three spring-loaded tools tested passed all attempts to break the glass.
  • One of the hammer-style tools broke the glass.
  • Laminated glass – none of the six tools tested were successful in breaking laminated glass, indicating it is nearly impossible to break without specialized equipment.

During multiple rounds of testing, spring-loaded tools were more effective in breaking tempered glass than the hammer-style. AAA also found that extra features on tools, such as lights or chargers, do not improve the performance of the tool itself.

Consumer Advice:

Being prepared in an emergency can greatly improve the chances of survival. AAA strongly recommends drivers do the following.

  • Memorize the type of glass vehicle windows are made of: Drivers can determine this by first checking for a label in the bottom corner of the windows that indicate whether the glass is tempered or laminated. If this information is not included or there is no label at all, contact the vehicle manufacturer. Some vehicle are outfitted with different glass at varying locations in the car. Most vehicles have at least one tempered window. This will be the best point of exit in an emergency. Remember, standard escape tools will not break laminated glass.
  • Keep an escape tool in the car that the driver is comfortable using. Test the tool ahead of time on a softer surface, such as a piece of wood. The tool works if the tip impacts the surface, leaving a small indent in the material.
  • Plan an exit strategy in advance. 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 seat belts and check to see that everyone is ready to leave the car when it’s time.

Roll down or break a window. If the car is sinking in water, once the window is open the water will rush into the car at a faster rate.

If windows can’t be open or broken, 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 could be much harder to swing underwater than a spring loaded tool.

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 escape first.

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Staff report