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Car Escape Tool is a Lifesaver – in the Right Situation

AAA research report finds car escape tools effective in breaking tempered windows, not laminated

The idea of being trapped anywhere can cause a rush of panic and anxiety. But, imagine being trapped in a car that is either upside down or sinking in water. A scenario like this is unthinkable. Luckily, these types of accidents are rare – in 2017 there were an estimated 8,000 crashes where a vehicle became partially or fully submerged – in comparison, motorists experienced rollover crashes more than 10 times more frequently. The key to surviving an event like this, or any emergency, is to remain calm, have a plan in place and keep a car escape tool in the vehicle at all times.

Tested car escape tools did not shatter laminated glass

To help consumers make an educated decision when purchasing a car escape tool, AAA examined six tools to determine how effective they are in breaking tempered and laminated glass. During testing, AAA researchers found that only four of the tools were able to shatter the tempered glass and none were able to break the laminated glass, which stayed intact even after being cracked. During multiple rounds of testing, it was also discovered that the spring-loaded tools were more successful in breaking tempered windows than the hammer-style.

More new cars have laminated side windows

AAA's study shows the importance of keeping an escape tool on hand, but it also demonstrates how critical it is for drivers to know what type of side window glass is on their vehicle – tempered or laminated. Motorists may not realize it, but an increasing number of new cars – in fact, 1 in 3 2018 vehicle models – have laminated side windows, a nearly unbreakable glass meant to lessen the chance of occupant ejection during a collision.

"To improve safety, more cars have laminated side windows – but a majority also have at least one window made of tempered glass," said John Nielsen, managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair for AAA. "Our research found that generally vehicle escape tools can be effective in an emergency, but only if drivers know what type of side windows they have, otherwise they could waste precious seconds trying to break glass that will not shatter."

How to know the type of glass windows your car has

Finding out what type of glass side windows are made of is easy. Drivers should check for a label located in the bottom corner of the side window, which should clearly indicate whether the glass is tempered or laminated. If this information is not included or there is no label at all, AAA advises contacting the vehicle manufacturer. It is also important to note that some vehicles are outfitted with different glass at varying locations in the car (e.g., tempered glass on rear side windows versus laminated on front side windows).

Being prepared in an emergency can greatly improve the chances of survival, especially if drivers and their passengers have become trapped in the vehicle. AAA strongly recommends drivers do the following:

Do these three things to be ready in case of emergency

Prepare ahead of time:

• Memorize the type of glass the vehicle windows are made of – tempered or laminated. If the car has at least one tempered window, this will be the best point of exit in an emergency. Also, remember – standard escape tools will not break laminated glass.

• Keep an escape tool in the car that the driver is comfortable using, has tested ahead of time and is easy to access. Spring-loaded tools often have a key chain. Drivers can also mount the tool to the dash or steering column to keep it in place during a collision.

• Plan an exit strategy ahead of time and communicate it to everyone in the car. 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.

What to do if trapped in a vehicle

If trapped in a vehicle, remember there is a S-U-R-E way out:

Stay calm. While time is of the essence – work quickly and 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 – remember if the car is sinking in water, once the window is open the water will rush into the car at a faster rate. If the window will not open and the car has tempered glass, use an escape tool to break a side window to escape. Drivers should also remember that if the vehicle is submerged:

o If a window will not open or cannot be broken because it is laminated, everyone should 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.

o A hammer-style escape tool (as opposed to a spring-loaded-style) could be much harder to swing underwater.

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 try to escape first.

"Knowledge is power and the more drivers understand about their car – like what type of glass their side windows are made of – the better prepared they will be in the event of an emergency," added Nielsen.

For a full list of vehicles with laminated side windows, please click here.

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