Flying glass and broken windows can mean life for its passengers when a car is sinking in a canal, as it could be a way out.
NBC 6 South Florida obtained an exclusive video of a 2006 Nissan Maxima’s rear window being broken.
With just one try, the trusted punch device will break the car windows, working perfectly on a sunroof.
“Once it fractures you can go ahead and either elbow it out or push it out,” said Grey O’Hara, a Miami-Dade Rescue driver.
With the sunroof gone, passengers have a way to escape if their vehicle ends up in the murky waters of a South Florida canal.
“My car was sinking. The water was coming up,” said Damian Pantin.
Pantin recalls his escape as his car plunged into a canal. He got out as the car went under.
“You don’t sit there and think about 'What am I going to do'? You just do it. The important thing is you are trying to save your life. You can’t think 'Am I dying? Is this happening?'” said Pantin.
But now, Pantin worries efforts to make vehicles safer, can in some instances, make them more dangerous.
“Safety glass is one thing, but the question is, is it safety for when a situation like mine happened?” said Pantin.
Team 6 Investigators found that car manufacturers are installing much stronger laminated glass, not just on the front windshield but on every window in your vehicle. The stronger glass shatters, but it doesn’t break or puncture.
“If your car hit water, would you have access to break it?” said Pantin.
“What happens is you can actually get trapped in the vehicle,” said O’Hara.
The experts at Miami-Dade Fire Rescue told Team 6 that the emergency tools that can break regular glass won’t punch through the stronger laminated panes underwater or on dry land.
“The concern is greater because if you have that laminated glass in there and you use the center punch. You saw what it was like.The center punch is useless against that type of material,” said O’Hara.
NBC 6 obtained the list of cars and SUVs that have laminated glass on all windows from the Enhanced Protective Glass Automotive Association. They are 2012 model, popular vehicles, such as Fords, Chevys and Chryslers. Some are foreign models and even the Motor Trend Car of the Year for next year, the electric Tesla S model.
“New adoptions of laminated glass demonstrate the benefits of the product, improving safety and fuel efficiency,” said the association.
Team 6 Investigators went underwater with the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue dive team to see the difference this new glass can make if you need to escape.
“We went on the inside, punched, went around the whole windshield itself and did the same the thing. That was the problem with it. The laminated glass would not respond to any of it,” said O’Hara.
“A person can be trapped inside the vehicle with the fire and smoke and being inhaling all the contaminants,” said O’Hara. “If you are stuck and encapsulated in that vehicle with fire it’s just a bad as if you were underneath the water.”
The federal government is taking steps to prevent passengers from being ejected from vehicles and the laminated glass is part of that effort.
“The laminated glass is supposed to protect you from going through the windshield,” said O’Hara.
“Chrysler group vehicles meet or exceed all required safety standards,” Chrysler said.
Ford stated: “Laminated glass in windows other than the windshield has been in production for years without any issues of which we are aware.”
Tesla indicated that the innovation that went into models applies to performance, handling, efficiency and safety.
In addition to getting out, the stronger glass makes it tougher for first responders to get in. This all takes valuable time you might not have.
General Motors said: “We do not have any vehicles that use laminated glass on the back window (backlight as we call it) or on sunroofs. And for instance, the Equinox only has lam glass on the windshield and the front seat side windows.”