SAFETY: Were Headrests Really Designed To Break Windows?

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A Facebook image is circulating suggesting that headrests were designed to be removable so that the metal adjustment rods can be used as a glass-breaking tool. Truth or fiction?


The seed of the information here was a Japanese video from 2012:

…which featured a couple of contestants in a game show using the adjustment bars of a headrest to pry against the window and smash the glass.

Headrest Regulations

The Facebook image, though, suggests that’s what they were designed for, and that they’re “deliberately kept detachable” for that purpose.

That’s not true at all. First of all, detachment isn’t described anywhere in the text of FMVSS No. 202, which has regulated the inclusion of headrests since 2000.

The text of FMVSS No. 202 has a lot of information about headrests that not only adjust, but lock into at least three height positions. But nowhere in the document is there any suggestion that the headrests be removable to allow for window breakage.

volvo-whipsSecond, many vehicles don’t have headrests that are easily detachable in an emergency. For example, vehicles from Volvo have used a “Whiplash Protection System” for years, which pivots the headrest forward in case of a rear-end collision. You can remove the headrest, but Volvo doesn’t make it easy. The release buttons for the headrest are hidden under the upholstery, and both have to be depressed at once in order to remove it. They only reason they’re there at all is in the event that the seat upholstery gets damaged and needs to be replaced. They’re not designed to be removed by the average user.

Find a Volvo With WHIPS at

Even in designs where the headrest removal buttons are obvious, it’s not easy. For example, we’re driving a 2017 Ford Escape Titanium this week. There are buttons to raise and lower the headrest, but both need to be pressed while simultaneously raising the headrest. If the seat is adjusted in a normal position, there isn’t enough roof clearance to remove the headrest completely. You’d have to recline the seat significantly to get it to come out.

And then there are some that aren’t removable at all, without a good set of tools and and afternoon to kill. Take the W210 Mercedes-Benz E-Class from 1995 to 2002 for example. Those equipped with power seats also had a power adjustable headrest. In order to even see the headrest mechanism, you’d have to remove the seatback first.

Auto Glass Regulations

“The car’s glass too [sic] are kept easily breakable from the inside,” reads the Facebook image. That’s not exactly true, either. The regulation for automotive glazing is FMVSS 205, which then indicates that all automotive glazing has to meet ANSI/ SAE Z26.1–1996 standards. The relevant language of ANSI/ SAE Z26.1–1996 is in section 5.5, which deals with impact resistance. To pass those ANSI/SAE standards, 12 identical pieces of glass are subject to the following:

A 227 g +3 g (0.5 lb +0.1 oz) smooth, steel sphere shall be dropped from a height of 3.05 meters (10 ft) once, freely and from rest, striking the specimen within 25 mm (1 in) of its center. The steel sphere shall strike the face of the specimen representing the exterior of the vehicle. Not more than two of the twelve test specimens shall crack or break as a result of this test.
In other words, the test is designed to guarantee that the glass DOESN’T break, not so that it’s easy to. In fact, some cars offered since the 1996 adoption of the ANSI/SAE standard had glazing that went well beyond that standard.

BMW, for example, offers a line of Security Vehicles that would be a severe disappointment if you could shatter their side windows with anything less than an assault rifle.

BMW offers three levels of protection in its Security Vehicles, the highest of which include glazing that complies with BRV2009 VR7, which can withstand three rounds of armor piercing 7.62x51mm ammunition.

You’re not going to break through that with a headrest.

In short, there isn’t a single word in this Facebook photo that’s true, and frankly, some of it can be dangerous if you’re relying on it in an emergency.

If you’re paranoid that you’re going to get trapped in your car underwater, pick up one of these safety hammers. They have a sharp, metal point and a bit of heft so you can break a standard car side window fairly easily. They also have a seat belt cutter that can get you out of danger if you can’t get to the release button.


And as always, take the word of one of our nation’s greatest leaders when reading stuff on Facebook:


Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at