Most of us are familiar with the key safety components of our vehicles. Everyone knows wearing a seat belt saves lives. Most drivers know if their vehicle is equipped with air bags and where they are located. Many of us have honked our horns in an emergency situation. But very few drivers are aware of just how important their windshield is to their safety and the safety of others. The windshield is often taken for granted and rarely thought about until it becomes a serious problem or distraction.

Many automotive safety experts rate the windshield as the third most important safety component on your vehicle, coming in right behind seat belts and airbags. Your windshield not only ensures that the passenger-side airbag deploys properly, it also helps maintain the structural integrity of the vehicle in the event of a rollover. It should also provide a clear, unobstructed, and comfortable view of where you are driving and what is ahead.

In early automobiles windshields were used to keep wind, bugs, dirt, debris, weather, and any other materials from obstructing the vision of the driver. Now, windshields are designed to do all of these things and much more.

In front end collisions, the windshield can provide up to 45% of the structural integrity of the vehicle. The rigidity and strength of the windshield is essential for maintaining the structure of the vehicle’s cabin during a collision.

In rollovers, the windshield helps support the weight of the vehicle which prevents the roof from caving in. One of the most common causes of fatalities in rollovers are head injuries and ejections. The windshield helps prevent both of these by keeping passengers inside while helping prevent the vehicle from crushing into itself.

Additionally, laminated automotive glass is designed to be strong enough to support the force and speed of a deploying air bag. Many passenger side air bags deploy from the dashboard, deflect off of the windshield, and into the passenger. The strength of a properly installed and damage free windshield helps to support this level of force and protect the vehicle’s occupants.

As a key safety component of your vehicle, your windshield should be inspected regularly for rock chips, small cracks, and any other damage, including excessive pitting from small rocks and sand that can obstruct the view of the driver over time. Cleaning the inside of your windshield regularly will also help you see safely while driving and will make it easier to see any damage before it becomes severe.

Minor chips and cracks can become major as a result of cold air hitting a hot windshield, hot air hitting a cold windshield, cold water hitting a hot windshield, or hot water hitting a cold windshield. After being cleaned (all bugs and debris should be removed), a windshield can easily be inspected by shining a flashlight across the outside surface at an angle. Rock chips and other damage or imperfections, including small cracks, will be amplified by the light. Damage found during an inspection can often be welded and repaired, thereby preventing minor issues from becoming major ones. A quality used vehicle inspection should include a thorough visual inspection of the vehicle’s windshield, as well as a test drive to evaluate the quality of the view provided by the windshield while the vehicle is being driven. Take care of your windshield and enjoy the view.