INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Do you know what type of glass is on your car? The answer could change how you should react during an accident. I-Team 8 found some types of glass can be nearly impossible to break, which could trap you if your car crashes underwater, where seconds count.
A STRONGER GLASS
Most cars have two different types of glass on them: tempered glass, which is designed to shatter on impact, and laminated glass, which is designed specifically not to break.
Lamination sandwiches a strong sheet of plastic between two layers of glass, which is then heated and sealed through a process known as glazing. It can reduce road noise, improve gas mileage, keep would-be thieves from breaking in, and keep you from falling out during a crash or rollover.
It's been used on windshields for decades.
But, recently it’s become an increasingly popular choice for rear and side windows as well. Once found mainly on the windows of high-end luxury vehicles, both foreign and domestic economy manufacturers are now rolling the technology out on new models. Some GM models like Buick and Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford and Chrysler-Dodge models now include standard laminated glass on side windows. Many other models offer the technology as an option.
Automakers estimate around 1.3 million new cars built this year were equipped with laminated glass on their side windows. Glass manufacturers, represented by the Enhanced Protective Glass Automotive Association (EPG), now list 34 different vehicle models that come with laminated glass side windows as a standard from factory.
That number is expected to grow dramatically over the next few years. By 2018, federal highway standards will require automakers to take new measures to keep people inside of their vehicles during a crash. Lamination is one of the options available to satisfy the rule, along with technology upgrades like new generation side-curtain airbags.
EPG calls the technology lifesaving.
“Testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has shown that vehicles equipped with both side laminated glass and side curtain air bags provide better occupant retention during vehicle rollover than vehicles equipped with air bags alone. NHTSA estimates that up to 1,300 lives could be saved each year if all vehicles were equipped with EPG,” the association said.
But, I-Team 8’s testing found, in some crashes — like those that involve water — the simple change to laminated glass could leave those inside a vehicle with no way out.
Imagine being trapped inside your car, trying frantically to get out, as water floods in. In Central Indiana, rescue crews responded to at least a dozen separate cases of it over the last four months alone.
Some crashes resulted in narrow escapes, like Shanika Parker’s. She was trapped inside her car in July after she fell asleep while driving home from work and drove into a retention pond near Interstate 465 and 38th Street. IMPD officers were able to pull her to safety before the car submerged.
But, other incidents ended with tragic consequences.
In early June, divers recovered the body of 24-year-old Alicia Marie Smidler, a recent Purdue grad from St. Joseph, Mich. who had overcorrected to avoid hitting a narrow bridge over the Wabash River.
22-year-old Alexander Cottom of Noblesville died after he was trapped inside his SUV in a Westfield retention pond in April.
And, in July of 2012, Kathy Tiemann got lost during a heavy downpour at night and drove into a Richmond reservoir. She tried to get out but the doors and windows wouldn't budge.
So she called 911 for help.
“Please help me. I’m almost underwater and I can’t get out,” she pleaded to the dispatcher.
He told her to open her windows to get out.
"I can’t,” she replied. “The car is electric, and it's already died.”
"Rip the mirror off of your window and hit the window,” the dispatcher responded.
For four long minutes, Tiemann lashed at the windows with all her might. They never shattered.
She was never able to escape.
‘HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?’
Under water, broken glass can mean life: a way to escape as a car sinks.
Tests conducted by I-Team 8 proved that most cars will float for two minutes or more before the cabin is fully submerged. Experts say that should be enough time to break a window and get out.
- PHOTOS | View the progression of the sinking car
- ONLINE EXTRA | Bonus video of I-Team 8 sinking a car
But, what if the glass won’t break, like it wouldn’t in Tiemann’s crash? It’s a question that has haunted Mary Kay Kidwell for the last five years.
In 2007, her grandson Trey lost his way in the dark and drove directly down a boat ramp into a Franklin County reservoir. A competitive swimmer who loved the water, he too struggled to break free, but was trapped.
“He broke three door handles trying to get out,” she said. “I’m sure if he were able to open or break a window — if he knew to do that — he would have been able to swim to safety.”
Trey Kidwell was just 17 years old.
"We were just in disbelief,” Kidwell said. “[We thought] this can't happen. How could this happen?"
With the help of the Pike Township Fire Department, I-Team 8 began the search for answers.
Pike Township Lt. Craig Voight easily broke the tempered glass windows of several junkyard cars using a variety of commercially available tools, including a sharp tipped spring loaded center punch and a tool known as a ResQMe that’s designed to fit on a driver’s keychain.
Even a simple firefighter’s rescue hammer was enough to knock out the glass. But, the same devices made little visible impact on laminated glass.
- ONLINE EXTRA | Video of attempt to break laminated glass
- ONLINE EXTRA | Video of attempt to break tempered glass
- ONLINE EXTRA | Video of how this report was put together
“You’ll see some cracking, as if a rock hit your windshield. A harder punch might get you a spider pattern type break. But, that’s about it. This is designed to keep you inside the car in an accident," Voight said.
If all the windows in your vehicle are made from laminated glass, tools like the center punch can’t get through on their own. Heavy saws or specialized glass cutting drills can break through the glass. But, few drivers would carry them in a readily available place inside their vehicle. And, they won’t work under water.
So, what does?
With the help of Pike Township’s Dive Team and Zore’s Towing, I-Team 8 borrowed an Oldsmobile destined for the scrap yard and let it sink into Eagle Creek Reservoir.
Less than five minutes after entering the murky water, the car was submerged, and one of the rescue divers began trying to break the laminated windshield. After poking and jabbing at the glass for more than one minute, the diver switched to the specialized punch tool, which snapped the tempered glass in the junkyard in seconds.
Underwater, it had no effect on the laminated glass.
It wasn’t until the diver broke out a heavy knife that he was finally able to rip through, and even then the hole wasn't nearly big enough to escape through.
Voight said he wasn’t surprised.
“I've beat on these things underwater and they don't break. You're not getting through that window, plain and simple,” he said.
‘A GREAT CONCERN’
The potential that laminated glass could trap someone inside a sinking vehicle has turned Kidwell into an unlikely crusader.
“It’s not something I thought I’d ever get involved in. But, that can change in an instant. The cure to any stress is action. I have to do something,” she said.
From her Richmond home, the grandmother has challenged the glass manufacturing industry, along with the U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA, to complete further studies of the potential dangers associated with laminated side window glass.
“Every year, there are 10,000 accidents in this country that result in vehicles ending up in the water,” Kidwell said. “And, there are 400 deaths. If we can help prevent those, shouldn’t we?”
In a statement to I-Team 8, the NHTSA said numerous studies have shown that lamination does save lives.
“Almost 65 percent of rollover fatalities occur in [just] 8 percent of rollovers involving either complete or partial ejection for the occupant fatality. Advanced glazing systems could save [up to] 1,305 lives annually. Of these, [up to] 1,031 could be prevented by improved front side glazing. In addition, an estimated 235 to 575 serious injuries could be reduced annually,” the agency found in a recent study.
NHTSA is not aware of any studies showing an increased risk of underwater drowning related to laminated side windows, the agency said.
“They look at numbers. They don't look at people. People are just a number to NHTSA. One life is one too many. One life lost is too many. This child should not be dead,” Kidwell said.
Kidwell argues that proper seatbelt use reduces the need for laminated glass in side windows. The numbers seem to support her claim.
“The majority of rollover victims [studied by NHTSA} were not using seat belts,” a recent federal report found. “In fact, 98 percent of occupants completely ejected and killed during rollover crashes were unbelted.”
KNOW WHAT’S ON YOUR CAR
“I think it’s imperative that drivers know what type of glass [is on their car],” said Al Vangura, founder of Pittsburgh-based We Cut Glass, which manufactures and markets to first responders a specialized drill designed to quickly cut through laminated glass. “Knowing what your options are can make all the difference in those critical first seconds.”
You can do that simply by looking at the markings on the window itself.
Most car windows include a label in the lower right corner that will say either “tempered” or “laminated.” Sometimes the glass type will be represented by markings. “AS-1” means the glass is laminated, “AS-2” means the glass is tempered.
You can also roll the window down partially and look at it from above. Laminated glass will have a ridge at the top, while tempered glass will be smooth.
Click here for the latest list of current models with standard laminated side windows.
“You need to ask those questions,” said Voight. “Find out when you buy a new vehicle what kind of glass you’ve got in your car. That simple piece of information could help you get out.”
Hoosiers saw unbearably cold temperatures Thursday morning.
Mintonye Elementary School may be ready to open in August, but Southwestern Middle School won't be ready. That's the preliminary assessment Superintendent Scott Hanback told the Tippecanoe School Corporation school board Wednesday evening.
State police and the Indiana Department of Transportation say public safety is being endangered by metal scrappers.