Car accidents are common if unfortunate experiences. While not always predictable, there are traffic rules to follow that can help drivers to avoid them. We also know that, in the case of a wreck, there are things we can do to avoid serious injury, such as properly wearing a seatbelt or having the head rest at the proper height. But many drivers mistakenly believe that having your windows rolled down during a car accident will help to prevent you from receiving severe lacerations from glass.
While on the surface this seems to make sense, the reality of this is that having rolled down windows may cause more injuries. This is because of the way that vehicles are made.
How are vehicle windows made to protect us during collisions?
When we think of glass, we think of fragile material that, when broken, shatters into razor-sharp shards that will slice deeply into us. If all glass were made the same, that would indeed be something to worry about when driving a car. The fact of the matter is that the glass in a vehicle is created differently, to minimize harm to the occupants if the glass breaks.
The two main types of glass in a vehicle include laminated glass and tempered glass.
- Laminated glass. Laminated glass was first used in the 1920s when glass makers in the auto industry stuck two sheets of glass together with a sheet of PVB (polyvinyl butyral) between them. Laminated glass is usually used for the front windshield. This type of glass does not shatter when it is broken, and therefore will not turn into sharp pieces in the event of a crash. Instead, the glass acts as a cushion and a net when someone is flung into the windshield. The breaking glass absorbs the energy more gently than unbreakable glass would. And more importantly it prevents the occupant from being ejected through the windshield. Any time someone is ejected in a crash the odds of severe injury or death go way up. So the entire car is designed to act as a safety cage to keep the occupants inside and to cushion impacts.
- Tempered glass. Formed through rapid heating and cooling processes, tempered glass was created to shatter into pebble-like pieces when it breaks. The small pieces have fewer sharp edges, and are less likely to cause deep lacerations during a collision. This sort of glass is mandatory for many consumer uses and has avoided or reduced hundreds of thousands of injuries from broken glass over the years. In vehicles, tempered glass is most often used in windows and the rear windshield.
Having windows created to sustain forceful impacts, and to break safely during collisions, means you are safer when your windows are up.
How can rolled down windows cause injuries during a car accident?
Many of us have driven around with an arm resting even just outside the car with the window down on a nice day, when the weather is temperate and the sun is out. We have, too. It is important, though, to consider what might happen to that arm in the event of different car accidents.
With rolled down windows, foreign objects are more likely to enter your car and cause harm. If your head or limbs are pushed out of the open window during a crash, the damage done to your arm during a sideswipe, T-bone, or rollover accident can include crushing or lacerating your limb, leading to scarring, nerve damage, or other injuries. Two of the most serious injuries include:
Traumatic amputation. Unpleasant as it is to think about, losing a limb in an accident is a serious possibility that has life-altering effects. Even if you do not actively have an arm hanging out your window during a crash, the accident may cause your body to jostle this way and that (or even bounce around the car if you are not wearing your seatbelt). Should an arm or a leg wind up falling out the window, the consequences could be dire.
A traumatic amputation is when a limb is either severed completely at the site of the accident, or injured so severely that when you are taken to the hospital, the doctors cannot save the limb and must remove it. The long-term costs of such an injury can be substantial and ongoing as you require treatment, therapy, and prosthetics.
Traumatic brain injury. If your head manages to end up outside the vehicle through the open window during the crash, it is likely you will suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBIs range from mild to severe and range from mild concussions to permanent brain damage. They can occur even without a direct blow to the head. But a severe blow to the head increases the odds of a severe TBI. When the head suffers a critical hit in can cause swelling, bruising, and bleeding in the brain. You may have heard of the blood-brain barrier. Although the brain needs blood to bring the oxygen which sustains life, blood that escapes the blood vessels deep in the brain actually is toxic to brain tissue. And even outside the blood-brain barrier, hemorrhage inside the skull puts pressure on the brain tissue (because the skull can’t expand like a balloon), and pressure in the skull is harmful. TBI symptoms are varied, but may include headaches, dizziness, nausea, loss of consciousness, personality changes, inability to control frustration and anger, mood swings, and memory loss. Some TBIs can be treated with rest and observation, while others may can end up changing your life and your family’s lives forever. You may end up needing mobility assistance, help with everyday activities, or even help with basic functions should you end up in a vegetative or comatose state. And TBIs can be fatal.
We’re not saying you shouldn’t roll down your windows. It’s nice to feel the wind on your face and the sun on your skin. However, we are saying that rolling down your windows won’t reduce your risk during a car crash. It actually increases your risk of severe injuries or death.
In any case, if you are in a car accident in Phoenix that was caused by someone else’s fault, you deserve compensation whether you had your window down or not. It’s not a crime to enjoy the fresh air, but it is a crime to drive distracted, under the influence, carelessly or recklessly. Let Plattner Verderame, P.C. fight for you. Our compassionate and determined attorneys have secured settlements for many clients over the years, and we want to help you too. We can’t make your injuries disappear (although we can sometimes help you get better medical care). We can reduce the extra suffering from being hurt and not getting fairly compensated. To schedule an appointment today, call us in Phoenix or Tempe, or visit our contact page.
I have been active in leadership in the Arizona Association for Justice (lawyers who represent injured folks, and formerly known as the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association) since 1985. I served as President in 1991. I was an active participant in battles to protect the Arizona Constitution from the insurance industry and big business interests in 1986, 1990 and 1994.
Read more about Richard Plattner