At one time or another it happens to all of us—a rock flings up from the highway and into your windshield, starting a tiny crack that will slowly spider-web out and spread across the entire glass panel; eventually, you will have to replace your windshield. Aside from the obvious dangers of driving with a cracked windshield, it could get you a ticket if it violates the visibility laws in your state. Various laws throughout the United States regulate safe windshield conditions, as well as safe windshield replacement.
Federal regulations, set by the U.S. Department of Transportation, outline minimum requirements for windshield conditions and visibility, which each state must enforce. These federal regulations state that, aside from legal tinting, the center of the windshield should be “free of discoloration or damage” This center area is defined as the space above the steering wheel, extending to two inches from the top of the windshield, and one inch from each side. However, a single crack can legally extend into this space, as long as it does not intersect with any other cracks. That means, regardless of your home state, if you have a spider-web crack in the middle of your windshield, you’re going to have to replace it.
Most state traffic laws extend beyond the minimum requirements set by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Essentially, every state windshield-visibility law states that windshield damage cannot impair a driver’s vision. However, the definition of impairment, in this case, often differs from state to state. In Wisconsin, for instance, vehicles cannot have any crack within the “critical area,” defined as the clear section that the wipers touch; nor can the windshield contain any cracks more than eight inches in from the border, or any rock chips, dings, etc. more than 1 1/2 inches in diameter (1/2 inch in the critical area). Some states, including Florida, don’t actually define what kind of damage qualifies as visual impairment, but leave it up to the law-enforcement officer to decide. Some states, including New York, conduct annual safety and emission inspections, and if your windshield has obstructive damage it will not pass inspection and you will lose your driving privileges—at least in that car—until you get the windshield replaced. In New York, obstructive damage includes any crack within the windshield wiper's path, any crack longer than 11 inches and any “‘star’ crack which is more than three inches in diameter.
Windshield Insurance Laws
Some states have laws that regulate how auto insurance companies can conduct business when it comes to windshield replacement. Most of the laws regulate the use of aftermarket or used windshields, when your insurance is covering the replacement. Most states, including Oregon, Rhode Island, North Carolina and Georgia, allow auto insurance companies to cut costs by using aftermarket replacement windshields. However, they must notify you in writing about their intent to use an aftermarket windshield, and it must be the same design and quality of a new one. Aside from aftermarket parts, some states, such as California, require that your insurance company let you to choose the body shop for windshield repair.
- U.S. Department of Transportation: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration: Rules & Regulations: Glazing and window construction
- Wisconsin Department of Transportation: State Patrol: Enforcement - frequently asked questions
- State of New York: Governor's Traffic Safety Committee: Traffic Safety Tips: Vehicle Equipment
- CarInsurance.com: What is the law for a cracked windshield?
- Information About Car Windshields: State By State
- Alan Michael Stevenson/iStock/Getty Images