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The mid- to long-term view for the use of plastic windows in vehicles is good, as Plastics News reporter Joseph Pryweller reported May 5. It's also generally understood that polycarbonate window glazing has yet to reach the state engineers, and safety experts feel confident about mass vehicle installation.

One of the reasons for the growth of the plastics industry during the past 50 years has been Detroit's adoption of plastics for automotive and truck production.

In recent years, government mandates to increase fuel economy and improve vehicle safety have increased the status and value of plastics, which has allowed Detroit to produce lighter vehicles that are more energy-efficient. Windows are a major automotive market plastics have yet to access.

The obvious problems with plastic windows — scratches, abrasions and weathering — pose a challenge the industry is working to resolve. Experts say to expect answers during the next decade.

Another related, inhibiting factor is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's restrictive rule permitting carmakers to install plastic windows only in side windows aft of the back seat. The rule expires in 1998 unless NHTSA decides to continue it, broaden the law's parameters or discard it. Prior to adopting the regulation last summer, the agency would not permit plastic to be used in any window necessary to view traffic.

Among NHTSA's concerns is the breakage of plastic windows in crashes, since people get ejected through windows as a result of vehicle accidents. The industry still is seeking answers through testing.

Ironically, plastic side windows have long been in use on commercial airliners, where the problem of scratching has been apparent to every passenger in a window seat. While the aviation industry statistically has a far-superior safety record than that of vehicle transportation, airplanes do crash. The plastic side windows have not been cited as an occupant safety issue in those instances.

The auto industry is on the right track. The NHTSA can help keep it there by extending the plastic window time frame at least through the end of the decade.