The safety of thousands of Irish motorists is being potentially compromised as some windscreen providers are failing to replace windscreens correctly.
Addressing the the Joint Oireachtas Transport and Communications Committee this week, Autoglass Ireland said the practice of ‘steering’ by insurance companies and a lack of regulation in the Vehicle Glass Repair and Replacement (VGRR) industry is putting the safety of motorists at risk.
It appears that, possibly in a bid to win ‘steering’ business from insurers, some VGRR operators are cutting costs by using inferior materials and practices, which can have a serious impact on the safety of the vehicle and the motorist.
The committee heard that the windscreen of a modern car now accounts for up to 30 per cent of the structural integrity of the vehicle and prevents the roof collapsing in the event that the vehicle rolls over. Also, the airbag, once activated, on the passenger side relies on support from the windscreen in order to work correctly.
Autoglass Ireland says a properly fitted windscreen is therefore crucial to the safety of all occupants. An incorrectly fitted windscreen will significantly increase the potential for fatality or serious injury when a vehicle is involved in an accident.
In addition, car windscreens are becoming increasingly complicated as manufacturers have over the last few years added increased curvature and tinting, embedded electronics and increased the size of the windscreen. The correct replacement of the vehicle windscreen is therefore becoming more complex but remains essential for the structural integrity of the car, and thus for the safety of the motorist.
Early in 2012, Autoglass commissioned a major study, carried out by the UK-based transport industry experts, Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), on the extent of the problem with the quality and safety of windscreen replacements in Ireland.
This study found:
Over 35% of windscreens that had previously been replaced were judged to exhibit some type of quality or safety issue
Over 14% were judged to exhibit safety issues rated as ‘high’ or ‘medium.’#
Thus, in Ireland, 36,274 windscreen replacements per year have some kind of quality or safety issue
Of these, between 11,803 and 17,809 are estimated to have a windscreen replacement which may compromise the level of safety offered.
On this basis, over a five year period, approximately 180,000 windscreen replacements may be introduced into the Irish market which have quality or safety deficiencies; and between 59,000-89,000 of these may have more significant safety issues
During the study some striking examples of serious quality and safety problems were recorded. These ranged from issues of poor quality, where windscreens were fitted without necessary equipment and components, to serious safety issues where the windscreen could just be pushed out by hand.
Autoglass has now commissioned TRL to conduct a second tranche of research that will establish the exact physiological effects of these poor practices in an impact situation on a driver in various models of cars.
Heiner Hertz, General Manager of Autoglass Ireland commented: “This research has uncovered a major issue in the Irish market which needs to be urgently addressed. As a result of the tough economic times, we believe that the choice of ‘preferred’ replacement company by insurance companies is being increasingly determined by commercial factors, principally pricing, rather than quality and safety concerns.”
“Motorists are generally ‘steered’ to an insurance company’s preferred supplier or else they face being financially penalised. The TRL evidence shows that some of these suppliers’ technicians are using inferior materials and incorrect practices which can have a serious impact on the safety of the vehicle and thus on the motorist.”
“The result of this practice is that corners are being cut and the lives of motorists are being put at risk. Consumers are entitled under the law to have any component of their vehicle replaced or repaired to at least the same standard that it was beforehand any damage occurred. The TRL evidence shows that this is simply not happening.”
“The problem is exacerbated by the lack of meaningful regulation governing the type of materials and the standards applied to those that fit the materials. We are calling upon all stakeholders to come together to recognise this problem and work collectively to find a solution.”