NHTSA Report Number DOT HS 808 062November 1993

An Evaluation of the Effects of Glass-Plastic Windshield Glazing in Passenger Cars

Glenn G. Parsons


Following revision of the applicable Federal safety standard in 1983, two motor vehicle manufacturers equipped some of their cars with glass-plastic windshields for testing in rental fleets. One company also installed the windshield in regular production cars for a brief period. The windshield was thought to have high potential for reducing windshield-caused lacerations to occupants involved in crashes. There were also concerns over the durability of the product. This study is an evaluation of the safety, durability, and cost of glass-plastic windshield glazing. It is based on analyses of data from State crash files, fleet tests, and other sources. The study findings are:

Executive Summary


Under Executive Order 12866 (and prior Executive Order 12291), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been directed to carry out periodic reviews of the automotive safety regulations which it has issued. These reviews provide a means of measuring the impacts of those regulations, in terms of the benefits which accrue to, and the costs which are imposed upon, the American public.

This study is a review of the effects of glass-plastic windshield glazing. It is NHTSA's second review of the effects of windshield glazing in passenger cars. The first study, published in 1985, evaluated the safety benefits and costs of conventional windshield glazing which has been standard equipment in American-made vehicles since 1966. The conventional windshield, often referred to as the "HPR" (or High Penetration Resistant) windshield, was found to be a major safety improvement over previous glazing designs, and was credited with bringing about a major reduction in the frequency and severity of head and facial injuries which resulted from occupants being thrown against the windshield in crashes. The primary benefit of the HPR design was a large reduction in the more severe facial lacerations and fractures, with a more modest reduction in less severe, or minor lacerations. These benefits were attributed to improved production techniques which significantly increased the penetration resistance of the windshield. Occupant penetration of the windshield is generally associated with more severe injury.

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 205, issued by NHTSA in January 1968, prescribes safety requirements for all glazing materials used in motor vehicles, including the windshield, the windows, and any interior partitions. The purpose of this standard is to: (1) reduce injuries resulting from impact with the glazing surfaces; (2) minimize the possibility of occupants being thrown through the windshield in collisions; and (3) ensure a necessary degree of transparency in the glazing for driver visibility. In 1983, the agency amended FMVSS No. 205 to permit the use of a new type of glazing, known as "glass-plastic" glazing. This change to the standard did not require the use of glass-plastic glazing, but rather permitted the use of this material at the option of the motor vehicle manufacturer.

The essential promising aspect of the glass-plastic windshield was its considered potential to further reduce windshield-induced lacerations. While the HPR windshield had substantially reduced these types of injuries, a considerable number still remained, primarily those in the minor severity category. The conventional windshield is a three-ply design consisting of two plies of glass sandwiched around a thin interply of plastic (polyvinylbutyral). The glass- plastic windshield is of similar design with the exception of an inner plastic liner (polyurethane) that is bonded to the inside glass ply -- i.e., the side of the windshield which faces the passenger compartment. The inner plastic liner would be expected to provide additional protection (over that afforded by the HPR design) against cuts from broken glass shards produced when occupants collide with the windshield during crashes. The plastic liner would provide a "containment mechanism" for the broken pieces of glass, thereby reducing the occupant's chances of coming into direct contact with the sharp edges of these glass fragments. While glass-plastic windshields were expected to substantially reduce lacerative injuries, there was concern that the inner plastic layer, being a much softer material than glass, could be susceptible to damage that could degrade driver visibility and reduce windshield durability. There was also some concern that the stiffer surface presented by the 4-ply glass-plastic windshield might contribute to a greater incidence of blunt impact injuries (i.e., concussions, contusions, complaint of pain). Overall, however, the potential safety gain from glass-plastic glazing was believed to far outweigh possible durability and other problems, and, therefore, the agency elected to permit (but not require) its use in order that real-world data might be developed to provide an evaluation of these issues.

Glass-plastic glazing was first developed in France by the Saint Gobain Vitrage Company, and some of the European car companies (among them, Peugeot, Porsche, and Mercedes) had fitted a limited number of their vehicles with glass-plastic windshields in the late 1970's and early 1980's to test the material in the market place. In the early 1980's, two domestic companies, General Motors and Ford, equipped a number of their vehicles with glass-plastic windshields and placed them in rental fleets to field test the windshields. Later, in 1984, General Motors introduced the glass-plastic windshield to the general public, by making it standard equipment on one of its luxury car models, the Cadillac Seville Elegante. Early in the 1985 model year, the windshield was made standard on all Seville models, and for model years 1986 and 1987, the company expanded its use of the plastic windshield glazing, making it standard on all Cadillac Eldorados, all Buick Rivieras, all Oldsmobile Toronados, and all Pontiac 6000 STE'S. At the end of the 1987 model year, however, General Motors discontinued all use of glass-plastic windshields in its regular production vehicles. GM stated that the reason for discontinuing installation of the windshield ws because of its high replacement costs for customers and high warranty costs for the company. It is estimated that approximately 210,000 regular production GM cars with glass-plastic windshields were produced before the company halted use of the windshield. No other car companies, domestic or import, have since equipped any of their U. S. marketed regular production vehicles with glass-plastic glazing.

Study Objectives and Data Sources

The objectives of this study are threefold:

(1) to estimate the extent to which glass-plastic windshield glazing could reduce lacerative injuries resulting from occupant contact with the windshield in crashes,

(2) to assess the nature, extent, and consequence of durability problems that could be experienced if glass-plastic windshields were installed in vehicles on a volume basis, and

(3) to estimate the costs that would be incurred from the use of glass-plastic windshields in motor vehicles.

The injury reduction effect of glass-plastic windshields is primarily based on the analysis of police reported crash data from three States, New York, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. State data -- in particular data from New York State -- constituted a major source of the information utilized in NHTSA's earlier study of the effects of HPR windshield glazing. Although not without certain limitations, these States provide detailed injury data in their automated crash files, such as type of injury and body location of injury, which are necessary to estimate the effect of the windshield glazing. The analyses are based on comparing the rate of bleeding injuries (primarily to the head and face) sustained by front seat occupants of glass-plastic vehicles (1985, 1986, and 1987 GM vehicles) with the rates of similar types of injuries sustained by front seat occupants of a control sample of vehicles. Bleeding injuries are considered to be generally synonymous with lacerative injuries. The control vehicles are GM cars of similar size, weight, and price range, which are equipped with conventional (i.e., HPR) windshields. The crash and injury results of special fleet tests of vehicles equipped with glass-plastic windshields are also reviewed.

The durability information is based primarily on the GM and Ford rental fleet field tests, together with other information, including warranty data, obtained from these manufacturers. The costs of glass-plastic glazing are based on earlier estimates made by the agency, on information solicited from the motor vehicle manufacturers, and on data on the aftermarket replacement costs of the glazing. A consumer survey of vehicle owners had originally been planned to obtain "first-hand" information on owner experience with the windshields, but budgetary priorities precluded the agency from conducting the survey.

It should be noted that major advances in motor vehicle safety have occurred since the agency amended FMVSS 205 in 1983 to permit the use of glass-plastic glazing. Safety belt use has increased to levels of over 60 percent. compared to a low 14 percent in 1983. Also, air bags not only have received wide acceptance, but will be required in all new cars and light trucks by the late 1990's. These significant increases in occupant protection mean that the numbers of occupants who impact the windshield (thereby being exposed to lacerative injuries from broken glass) have been substantially reduced and will continue to diminish. Hence, the magnitude of the safety problem originally targeted by glass-plastic windshield glazing is being substantially reduced. This situation contrasts rather sharply with the occupant restraint picture in 1983 when NHTSA amended Standard 205. At that time, the agency recognized that substantial changes in the availability and use of passive restraints could alter the need for the additional occupant protection qualities expected from glass- plastic glazing. However, if automatic restraints were eventually installed in passenger cars, the agency believed that they would primarily be passive belt designs (as opposed to air bag systems) and that a substantial portion of motorists would elect not to use them. This was also prior to the period of State Mandatory Restraint Use Laws and other developments which have since fostered marked increases in the use of safety belt systems, both active and passive.

Following are the principal findings and conclusions of this study:


Injury Reduction



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