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Traffic Q&A: Is it illegal to drive with a cracked windshield?

Here's a story out of Washington state that applies equally here in AZ, especially since we are the number one market in the country for windshield replacement and our laws on "safety equipment" are similar to theirs. - Rob Dwyer

Q: Is it illegal to operate a motor vehicle with a cracked windshield even if it does not necessarily interfere with a driver's field of view? – Robert F., Tacoma

A: This one caused us to prick up our ears.

One of the motor vehicles in the Traffic Q&A fleet is a Honda Accord that has seen better days.

Among its many flaws is a long horizontal crack running along the lower part of the windshield. It started as a rock chip and migrated across the frosty glass one winter day when we turned on the defroster full blast. Lesson: Get out and scrape the windows.

Anyway, with a personal stake in the matter, we took Robert’s question straight to Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool.

Her answer was, uh, not cool.

“Yes, windshields are considered equipment,” she told us. “They must be unaltered. A crack in the windshield constitutes an obstruction.”

Cool cited two RCWs to bolster her point.

RCW 46.37.410 states in part that “all motor vehicles on the public highways of this state shall be equipped with a front windshield manufactured of safety glazing materials …”

That’s the same law, incidentally, that states it’s OK to drive WITHOUT a windshield as long as you’re wearing protective eyewear, a fun fact we addressed a few columns back.

The eye-glazing rules about the safety-glazing materials are contained in RCW 46.37.430.

Cool’s second citation was to RCW 46.32.060, which states in part that it is “unlawful for any person to operate or move … any vehicle or combination of vehicles, which is not at all times equipped in the manner required by this title, or the equipment of which is not in a proper condition and adjustment as required by this title or rules adopted by the chief of the Washington State Patrol.”

Yeah, sure, throw the law at us, Ms. Cool.

But what about wiggle room?

“What if the crack is along the bottom of the windshield and only obstructs the view of the hood?” we whined. “Asking for a friend.”

There is, apparently, no wiggle room.

Said she: “It falls under two different issues. The primary concern would be the integrity of the window. Due to the safety glass requirements, the window, once cracked, no longer meets the safety standards set by the RCW.

“The second is the unobstructed view. Even though you don’t feel it obstructs your view, the field of the windshield is the standard.

“Bottom line: Yes, you can get a ticket for a cracked windshield.”

We might have emailed back a bad word that rhymes with “bell,” which prompted Cool to write this:

“I’ve actually seen two cracked windows splinter in several different directions from air force. I would hate to be driving when that happens.”

Hmmm ...

Sounds like we’ll be making an appointment at the auto-glass repair shop soon.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644, @TNTAdam

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