Thieves were recently thwarted in their attempt to carjack a vehicle belonging to a courier company in London. Although the attack involved sledgehammers, the thieves were unable to break through the side windows.
The delay gave the driver precious time to call the police, who arrived shortly after. Neither the driver nor his partner was injured and the vehicle's valuable contents were saved.
The reason the thieves were foiled on this occasion was a super-strong membrane – marketed as SupaGlass – which has already been awarded the highest security listing by the Motor Industry Repair Research Centre at Thatcham.
SupaGlass is the result of a £250,000 three-year development project by Acton-based Pentagon Glass-Tech in conjunction with a US supplier.
Pentagon chairman David Thomas said: 'In determining the strength of SupaGlass, we conducted extensive testing. This showed us that we had to improve thickness, adhesive strength and visual clarity in order to avoid the problems associated with many factory-produced laminates that present serious safety risks in the event of an accident.
'It takes time and real effort for a raider to get through a SupaGlass-protected window. And research has shown that a delay in forced entry of more than 10 seconds will deter most potential thieves.'
In this respect, Pentagon claims that SupaGlass finally answers the urgent need to find a way to improve vehicle glazing sufficiently to prevent opportunistic break-ins – a major recommendation of the Government's 1999 Vehicle Crime Reduction Team.
After all, alarms and immobilisers may prevent the theft of a vehicle, but not theft from a vehicle, which is generally what concerns most commercial fleet managers. In one recent attack on band leader Del Bingley's brand new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, for instance, an opportunistic thief did manage to shatter one of the side windows using a half brick but eventually gave up when he could not get through. This was in spite of the fact that the vehicle was fitted with an alarm.
So what is SupaGlass exactly? It is a super-thick polyester membrane that is heat-sealed to the interior of a vehicle's windows. This means that, even if the vehicle glass is shattered in an attack, it will still be held together by the membrane.
According to Thatcham, SupaGlass provides upwards of 30 seconds resistance to an attack. In many tests, however, the membrane has prevented forced entry for more than 90 seconds. As a result, ITV's News at Ten programme recently cited the product as the only serious deterrent against carjackers, a verdict confirmed by a special ITV1 report.
SupaGlass has already been installed on a number of Cabinet Office and ministerial cars, on Northern Ireland's fire engines, on many police cars and on the cars of celebrities including Geri Halliwell and Ian Wright.
Now it is being actively marketed to van fleets following a highly successful pathfinding deal with Transco (see case study below).
Another area in which SupaGlass offers protection is in its safety aspects. As it is professionally bonded to the inside of a vehicle's windows, it protects both driver and passengers from flying glass in the event of an accident. At the same time, however, it enables a relatively easy escape from the vehicle following an accident because it can be pushed or kicked out without any risk from the glass on the other side.
In one much-reported car accident in which the vehicle was completely written off, the driver amazed police by escaping through the shattered driver's window in a matter of seconds. During the crash, his head had hit the window several times. 'If it had been untreated glass, at some point my head would have been outside the cabin,' he commented. 'At the very least I would have been severely cut about the face. But if my head had been outside the vehicle as it rolled, who knows?'
SupaGlass's safety benefits led Pentagon to be awarded the Institute of Transport Management's Vehicle Safety Company of the Year Award in 2001. In its summary of the product, the Institute made much of the fact that installation of SupaGlass was 'a wise investment for any fleet manager.'
Perhaps this is because, with the Government determined to improve the safety record of company vehicles by targeting company directors who fail to protect their drivers adequately, SupaGlass provides a new weapon in the fight against road accidents and their human and legal consequences.
Solution is clear for Transco's theft problems
SERVICE engineers are often wearily familiar with the threat from thieves. Many of the 60 Transco engineers dealing with gas emergencies in Manchester, for instance, have had their vans attacked at least once.
But the Transco network operations manager in the city, David Billinge, believes they could now have the problem licked – and SupaGlass has proved an essential part of the solution. So successful has the introduction of Pentagon Glass-Tech's security membrane been that the neighbouring Transco area to the east of Manchester is also now installing SupaGlass on its fleet of 60 vans, with other areas of the country expected to follow suit.
'We had previously used a protective film on the side windows of our vans,' said Billinge, 'but this was unsatisfactory, both from the security point of view and also for its lack of transparency. So when we replaced our fleet with new Renault Kangoos and Ford Transits in 2001, we took the opportunity to research the market thoroughly.
'We finally decided on SupaGlass, which is an incredibly tough and transparent membrane that paid immediate dividends in its first week when it foiled two attempts by thieves to break into our vans. It does involve an initial capital outlay, but we have calculated that the resulting decline in thefts means it will pay for itself within two years.
'Installing SupaGlass makes economic sense in both the short and long term, while also ensuring that the engineers feel considerably more secure. Our familiar blue vans are now no longer the target they once were.'