Vehicle Escape Tools are a Lifesaver

In the Right Situation
AAA Traffic Safety Team

To help consumers make an educated decision when purchasing a vehicle escape tool, AAA examined six tools to determine how effective they are in breaking tempered and laminated glass. During testing, AAA researchers found that only four of the devices were able to shatter the tempered glass and none were able to break the laminated glass, which stayed intact even after being cracked. During multiple rounds of testing, it also was discovered that the spring-loaded tools were more successful in breaking tempered windows than the hammer-style.

AAA’s study shows the importance of keeping an escape tool on hand, but it also demonstrates how critical it is for drivers to know what type of side window glass is on their vehicle – tempered or laminated. Motorists might not realize it, but an increasing number of new cars – in fact, 1 in 3 2018 vehicle models – have laminated side windows, a nearly unbreakable glass meant to lessen the chance of occupant ejection during a collision.

Finding out what type of glass side windows are made of is easy. Drivers should check for a label located in the bottom corner of the side window, which should indicate whether the glass is tempered or laminated. If this information is not included or there is no label at all, AAA advises contacting the vehicle manufacturer. It is also important to note that some vehicles are outfitted with different glass at varying locations in the car (i.e. tempered glass on rear side windows versus laminated on front side windows).

Being prepared in an emergency can significantly improve the chances of survival, especially if drivers and their passengers have become trapped in the vehicle.



  • Keep an escape tool in the car that the driver is comfortable using, has tested ahead of time and is easy to access. Spring-loaded devices often have a key chain. Drivers can also mount the tool to the dash or steering column to keep it in place during a collision.
  • Plan an exit strategy ahead of time and communicate it to everyone in the car. This will help avoid confusion in an emergency, which could increase the time it takes to exit the vehicle. Also, have a backup plan in case an escape tool cannot be used or doesn’t work.



  • Stay calm. While time is of the essence – work quickly and cautiously to ensure everyone safely exits the vehicle.
  • Unbuckle seat belts and check to see that everyone is ready to leave the car when it’s time.
  • Roll down or break a window – remember if the car is sinking in water, once the window is open the water will rush into the car at a faster rate. If the window will not open and the vehicle has tempered glass, use an escape tool to break a side window to escape. Drivers should also remember that if the vehicle is submerged:
* If a window will not open or cannot be broken because it is laminated, everyone should move to the back of the vehicle or wherever an air pocket is located. Stay with it until all of the air has left the vehicle. Once this happens, the pressure should equalize, allowing occupants to open a door and escape.
* A hammer-style escape tool (as opposed to a spring-loaded-style) could be much harder to swing underwater.
  • Exit the vehicle quickly and move everyone to safety.
  • Call 911 – while this is typically the first step in an emergency if a vehicle has hit the water or is on fire, it is best to try to escape first.