In 2017, there were 21,000 crashes in the U.S. in which a vehicle caught on fire or was partially or fully submerged in water — leading to 1,800 deaths, according to travel-services provider AAA. These types of crashes can be fatal if occupants become trapped in their vehicles. Vehicle escape tools are intended to slash seat belts and shatter side windows to allow you to escape, but a new study released by AAA reveals that not all of these tools are effective on newer safety windows.
The study tested six vehicle escape tools; three were spring-loaded and three were hammer style. Spring-loaded tools, which release a sharp head at a high speed when you pull the trigger, passed all tests on tempered glass. Only one of the tools failed one of three attempts to break the window. The hammer-style tools, which require you to swing and hit the glass with the sharp head, were less successful. Two of the three tools tested failed all attempts to break tempered glass windows.
Most vehicle side windows are made with the aforementioned tempered glass, which shatters when it breaks, but more and more, auto manufacturers are building cars with laminated glass side windows. Laminated glass, which is engineered to lessen the chance of ejection in a crash, doesn’t respond to the normal vehicle escape tools and is “nearly impossible to break,” AAA stated.
AAA’s study found that while four of the six tested tools cracked the laminated glass, none broke it in a way that would allow someone to escape a sinking or burning vehicle.
Does Your Car Have Laminated Glass?
A third of 2018 model-year vehicles have laminated glass in their side windows, AAA says. To find out whether your car has tempered or laminated side windows, read the label in the bottom corner the window, or check directly with the manufacturer. Make sure to check every window, as it’s common for at least one side window to be made from breakable tempered glass.
What else can you do to prepare for this kind of emergency? AAA recommends drivers buy a vehicle escape tool and keep it in an easily accessible place in the car. The type of tool doesn’t really matter, but keep in mind that hammer-style tools won’t work underwater. You can test the tool’s effectiveness by using it on a piece of soft wood. If the tip impacts the surface and leaves an indentation, it works. Also, memorize the location of any and all tempered-glass windows in your car, and plan and communicate an exit strategy to avoid confusion in a real emergency.
If you find yourself in that real emergency — trapped in a car that is submerged in water or on fire — here’s what AAA says to do:
1. Stay calm and get out of the vehicle while you have the time to do so safely — don’t lose precious escape moments to panic.
2. Unbuckle your seat belts and make sure everyone is ready to leave the vehicle when it’s time.
3. Roll down your window if you can and exit the vehicle. Remember that if your window is open, water will rush in at a faster rate, so plan accordingly. If that’s not an option, break the tempered glass window with an escape tool and exit that way. If you cannot open or break your windows, move everyone toward an area of the vehicle that has a pocket of air and remain there until the air is gone. Then, the pressure in the vehicle should equalize, allowing you to open door and escape.
4. Finally, exit the vehicle quickly and move everyone to safety. Then, call 911.
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