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Windshield Installation: A Matter Of Life & Death

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (WCCO) - As you drive to work or run errands, you may not realize you could be "looking through" one of the biggest risks on the road.

It's your windshield.

A piece of the car more critical to keeping your family from harm's way than you might realize.

Jon Fransway knows this fact all too well.

"It's a lot bigger issue than most people think," said Fransway.

His 25-year-old sister Jeanne was killed in a car accident in 1999.

"She was driving down a county road and the car rolled over and windshield came out with her," said Jon, "And she was lying on the windshield 70 feet from the car. Her body was cut up like the windshield shatters".

First responders noted that Jeanne wasn't wearing a seatbelt.

But it was Jon who investigated the fact that the adhesive meant to hold Jeanne's windshield had failed.

Butch Lysholm, a consultant with Occupational Automotive Industry Related Education, agrees.

"You can see that there is really no glue around that part of the windshield," said Lysholm.

We took a walk with him through a salvage yard to see just how common the problem is, and how dangerous.

"This shouldn't happen. It shouldn't come right clean off like that," said Lysholm, picking up the edge of a windshield.

"This is bad. See how it completely let go. It looks like it was primered, but it came off the urethane. It's adhering here," said Lysholm, pointing at a broken windshield. "But all the way around the top it completely let go. So the roof -- when it rolled over -- the roof crushed over."

"There's virtually no strength to the roof. They're relying on the windshield," said Lysholm.

"Here's another rollover," pointed out Lysholm. "It completely held its shape. It must have come down fairly hard, but you can see the glass has held, held the roof in place."

Automakers say the windshield provides one-third of the structural integrity for the roof of your car.

It's there to keep the roof from crushing in during a rollover. And it helps make the airbags work the way they're supposed to.

From a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash test video, you can see how important the windshield is for the airbags.

"The airbag on the passenger's side uses the windshield as a backboard to get it up at your torso," Lysholm said.

"If the windshield is missing, that means someone put it in there incorrectly."

"This is really bad," said Bob Beranek, President of Automotive Glass Consultants, Inc.

We asked him to look at some undercover video of an installer in Sacramento, California. He said it's not hard to find incorrect installations.

Beranek said the problems don't usually happen with a new car. It's after someone replaces the factory-installed windshield incorrectly. That's when the wrong adhesive could be used, or applied improperly.

"Most of the trained auto glass installers in this country are not formally trained," said Beranek. "They take them off the street, throw them in a truck with one of their experienced installers and then they are given the blessing as you are an auto glass installer."

Lysholm teaches first responders what to look for at the scene of an accident. And he's trying to raise windshield awareness on Monday night, with a group of volunteer firefighters in Long Lake.

"How many of you have been to a crash scene, rollover or whatever," asks Lysholm, "where the windshield's flipped out of the car?"

Lysholm asked the firefighters as about half of them raise their hands.

"Quite a few?" he said, "That's not supposed to happen."

While many of these first responders say they've seen the windshield missing at the scene of an accident, it's not something tracked in Minnesota.

Donna Berger, Director of Traffic Safety for the Department of Public Safety, explains.

"If we see what the contributing factors are, that's where we focus our education and enforcement," said Berger.

She says the department tracks things like speeding, distracted and drunk driving, not windshields.

WCCO-TV asked why something like this isn't tracked.

"That's not a data element that we collect as a contributing factor," said Berger. "Again, we focus on the contributing factors on behavior."

Here's what every accident report looks like. It's two pages long and very detailed: everything from marking a collision with a fire hydrant, to a pedestrian pushing on a vehicle.

"They look and check if the airbags blew, right?" asked Beranek. "They check to see if the safety belts held the people into place and if they were clicked."

Beranek thinks what happens to the windshield should be a part of every accident report.

"It would make customer awareness more sensitive to it," said Beranek. "And with that sensitivity comes action. And with that action comes better auto glass installation as a whole."

Since Jeanne's death, her brother has worked hard to get standards for proper windshield replacement, and installer certification.

"It's really important that I get the word out there and continue to try to change that whole standard of how things are done in the after-market. Just to protect other people," said Fransway. "I think it's really given her life a lot of meaning."

Windshield replacements have come a long way since Jeanne was killed.

If you have a crack or a chip, you'll want to get it replaced. Look for a place that meets Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standards (AGRSS).

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