Autoglass Ireland has raised its concerns about windscreen safety to the Joint Oireachtas Transport and Communications Committee.
Autoglass Ireland told the committee that the practice of 'steering' by insurance companies and a lack of regulation in the Vehicle Glass Repair and Replacement (VGRR) industry is leading to the safety of thousands of Irish motorists being potentially compromised as some windscreen providers are failing to replace windscreens correctly.
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% 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.
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 Research Laboratory (TRL), on the extent of the problem with the quality and safety of windscreen replacements in Ireland.
The 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 issue.
Of these, between 11,803 and 17,809 are estimated to be windscreen replacements 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.
Heiner Hertz, General Manager of Autoglass Ireland, said: "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."