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Do Sunroofs Make Cars Structurally Weaker, Thus Less Safe?

October 26, 2022 by The Parrish Law Firm

Hi there,

I’m Vishal, the Marketing Manager at the Parrish Law Firm. If you’ve read one of our blogs before, chances are you’re familiar with some of my work. Today, we’re doing things a bit differently than usual. I have a theory, and want to present the research for and against this theory. At the end, we’ll see if this theory proves true, untrue or if it’s difficult to tell. 

Something I’ve always wondered about is sunroofs. Often, sunroofs bump vehicles to a higher vehicle tier, meaning we pay a premium for that feature. Now…bear with me here – something I’ve wondered for a long while now is whether cutting a giant rectangle into solid roofing and installing a window in the center compromises the structure of our vehicle’s roof, making it more susceptible to damage in the event of an accident. Over 40% of the vehicles on the road are equipped with sunroofs, so this topic should be interesting to many of us. 

Let’s get right into it, shall we? 

Anti-Sunroof Research

Below, you will find arguments stating why sunroofs may tamper with the structural integrity of a vehicle. 

  • Most sunroofs are made with tempered glass, which is structurally less sound than what our windshields are made of, laminated safety glass. This means sunroofs should give under pressure more easily than our windshield. The issue with using a laminated safety glass in place of tempered glass is that it could increase risk of head and neck injuries if manufacturers were to make the switch. Regardless, tempered glass is more likely to shatter, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want glass shattering near my head or neck. 
  • According to the NHTSA, closed sunroofs have accounted for, on average, ~230 deaths and ~500 injuries per year between 2002 and 2012. 
  • In the event of an accident, there is a risk of being ejected from the vehicle through the sunroof. This has accounted for an average of 300 deaths and 1400 injuries per year (NHTSA). 

Pro-Sunroof Research

  • The government has strict standards for testing the overall structural integrity of all vehicles. In government crash tests, the conclusion was that sunroofs are insignificant in the overall strength of a roof. These tests also showed that the steel frame that is required in all vehicles should keep the driver and passengers safe in the event of a rollover car accident. The energy from a crash is usually absorbed by the A, B, C and D pillars of a car. This means that the impact is rarely absorbed by the center of a vehicle’s roof. 
  • The biggest concern when it comes to sunroofs is the risk of being ejected from the vehicle in a rollover crash. According to the IIHS, rollover crashes only make up about 3% of all car accidents. Also, seatbelts should provide all the safety you would need if involved in a rollover crash, making ejection-related injury risk nominal. When you are secured by a seatbelt, you’re allowing the crush zones and airbags to do what they need to in order to keep you safe. 

While the government and car manufacturers maintain that sunroofs are perfectly safe additions to vehicles, I’m not so sure. Now, even with the doubt in my mind did I still get a vehicle with a sunroof? Sure did. Few things beat the sun shining above you while you cruise down a trafficless I-66 (hah) on a beautiful, bright day. There is still something to be said about the NHSTA considering stricter regulations around the use of sunroofs in vehicles. Also, if sunroofs were really as safe as manufacturers claim, I wonder why some manufacturers like Hyundai are working on creating airbags that deploy around sunroofs. I’m not sure I got the answer I was hoping for here, but what’s life without a little risk, right? 


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