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Sunroofs: Fun, But Are They Safe?

By Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. on April 27, 2018

The popularity of sunroofs is definitely increasing. In 2017, 40% of the cars and light trucks sold in the United States included a sunroof, compared to only 33% in 2013. In addition, there is also a trend showing that the size of many of the sunroofs is increasing.

But some serious accidents where people were ejected from sunroofs and moonroofs have consumers questioning their safety. Let’s look at the facts.

How Auto Glass Is Made

All modern vehicle windshields are made of laminated safety glass. This is a type of treated glass that is made by combining two sheets of glass with a layer of plastic in between. There are a few added benefits to this glass. First, the two layers of glass are independent, and a crack from flying debris is less likely to penetrate both layers. Second, the plastic center helps to hold the cracked glass together rather than allowing the glass to shatter and fall from the frame. This process of laminating windshields became common in the United States in 1919, when Henry Ford adopted the French technique of glass laminating and ordered it to be used on all of his vehicles.

Side windows, rear windows, and sunroofs in a vehicle are constructed of tempered glass. Glass is tempered by heating it in excess of 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit then cooling it rapidly. This process gives tempered glass approximately four times the strength of untreated glass. In the event that the glass does break, it is designed to almost disintegrate, with the resulting pieces being no larger than a piece of rock salt. The pieces should also be fairly uniform in shape and have no large, jagged edges.

The Risk a Sunroof Represents

All automotive glass must meet strict standards set by the Auto Glass Safety Council in accordance with the American National Standards Institute. Any sunroof will be made of the same glass as the side and rear windows of a vehicle. So, the glass is not the problem. The main danger of sunroofs is their location.

When a vehicle rolls, its sunroof is the only opening in a solid metal structure: the roof of the vehicle. And any opening represents an opportunity for ejection from the vehicle. Most new vehicles have side airbags, which inflate over the window area, helping to prevent the possibility of an ejection. But currently, there are no airbags over the sunroof area. Some manufacturers are investigating this option and working with prototypes, but nothing is currently in line production.

Are Manufacturers Late on New Design Options?

Many consumers want to know why vehicle makers have only recently begun to explore making sunroofs safer. One reason can be found in some statistics from vehicle accidents. In the period from 1997–2008 there were roughly 10,000 ejection-related deaths per year in the United States. Of those deaths, 3% were the result of an ejection from a sunroof, while a staggering 62% were the result of a side-window ejection. These numbers demanded that vehicle makers address the side window issue before the sunroof issue in an effort to provide the greatest benefit to consumers.

With side airbags eliminating many side-window ejections, vehicle manufactures are now focused on adding safety features in the area of sunroofs. Since there are more sunroofs now than ever, they’d better hurry. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that about 230 people were killed and 500 injured every year between 2002–2012 through “closed” sunroof ejections.

Safety Steps You Can Take

There are several steps that drivers can take to increase their safety and the safety of all passengers in their vehicles:

  • Wear a seatbelt. Seatbelts hold your body to the seat, which provides protection in the event of the vehicle rolling. In addition, the seatbelt holds you in the specific area around which airbags are going to deploy for added safety and protection.
  • Drive responsibly. In poor visibility or weather conditions, this can mean driving below the posted speed limit, or choosing not to drive at all if the conditions are extremely poor.
  • Keep it closed. If your sunroof has an internal cover or screen, keep it closed. The cover will help to keep broken glass from falling into the cabin and posing an additional hazard to the driver and passengers, though it may not be able to hold a person inside the vehicle in the event of a rollover.

If you were in an accident and believe that a sunroof contributed to your injuries, you may have a claim against the auto manufacturer—which will be no easy task to pursue. At Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., our Seattle lawyers have experience with occupant ejection. We will help you understand your rights and the potential of compensation for your injuries. The call is free and so is your initial consultation. Call now at (888) 228-3860 to have the peace of mind you need to begin your recovery.

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