Your windshield is the only thing separating you from bugs, road debris and everything that bounces up and over your car while driving down the road. It’s made from layered and laminated safety glass, but it’s designed to crack rather than break when it comes into contact with a fast-moving object. Of course, as with most things, your windshield isn’t foolproof.
Here’s what you should do if your car windshield breaks or shatters while you’re driving.
Spotting Cracks and Chips
Unless something large — like a person or an alien spacecraft — comes into contact with your windshield, it’s generally not going to shatter while you’re behind the wheel. Its two glass panes get layered over a sheet of plastic to prevent the windshield from breaking and falling into the vehicle like window glass might. What you’ll see first are small chips and spiderweb cracks.
Anything can chip or crack your windshield — a rock thrown up by a passing car tire, a hailstone or a particularly robust bug. As soon as it’s damaged, the structural integrity becomes compromised. That’s why once there’s a crack in the glass, it will slowly start to get bigger, spreading across the pane. Eventually, it will reach from one side to the other, and might even obstruct your line of sight.
While that can be dangerous, it isn’t the worst thing that can happen when you’ve compromised your windshield’s structural integrity.
Can Cracked Windshields Shatter?
Windshields are made from laminated safety glass that won’t break like regular window panes, but can they shatter? The short answer is yes, but it’s not going to break into thousands of sharp little pieces and fall into your lap while you’re driving down the highway.
What will happen is, after a significant impact, the windshield will end up covered in spiderweb cracks that will obscure your line of sight. You might not have a lap full of glass, but you won’t be able to see where you’re going. This will turn your car or truck into a blind projectile, hurtling into whatever is in your path.
A small crack or chip can expand exponentially. Once you see a little bit of damage, it doesn’t take much to grow into something that blocks your view of the road entirely.
What to Do if Your Windshield Shatters
First of all, don’t panic.
If your windshield shatters when you’re behind the wheel, the first thing you need to do is carefully slow down and stop your vehicle — especially if the broken glass is obscuring your vision. Turn on your hazard lights, and use rearview and side mirrors or look out your windows so you can safely navigate. Be careful — in the United States alone, there is an average of 208 crashes for every 100 million vehicles. You don’t want to be one of those statistics.
If possible, pull in somewhere you can leave your vehicle until you can get it towed or have the windshield replaced. Some services will come to you, no matter where you are. If you have comprehensive insurance, you may even be able to get your windshield replaced for free. Some policies will cover a certain number of replacements without needing to pay a deductible.
Finally, keep a close eye on your windshield. You can easily prevent it from shattering by staying on top of any damage you see and repairing or replacing it as necessary.
Stay Safe on The Road
Your windshield is the biggest barrier between you and all the debris on the road. When unmarred, it’s strong and will serve its purpose, but a single crack or chip can compromise the delicate structural integrity of the layered glass. Stay safe by repairing any chips or cracks quickly, or replace the windshield if they grow too large. If your windshield does shatter while driving, don’t panic. Just carefully steer your car off the road and out of traffic, and either have it towed or call a service to replace the windshield on the spot. Whatever you do, don’t drive a car with a broken windshield, especially if it’s obstructing your view of the road. Get to safety and make the needed repairs. You’ll be back on the highway in no time.