It's important to repair or replace a damaged windshield as soon as possible to ensure your safety and that of your passengers. If you're involved in an auto accident, even minor damage to a windshield can yield a worse outcome by compromising the safety of anyone riding in the vehicle. A cracked or chipped windshield may not look nice, but it can also increase the risk of injury. (Go here for more questions on windshield repair)

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, reports show that nearly 33,000 people are killed and more than 2 million others injured each year on the nation's highways. While there are various causes for auto accidents, the condition of the windshield plays a major role in the safety of a vehicle's occupants.

Prevent Impaired Visibility

A cracked, nicked, or scratched windshield can create unsafe driving conditions by impairing visibility or causing glare. When you're driving, you need to clearly see what's coming at you in order to react appropriately to potential dangers. Besides being distracting, you could have a driver blind spot depending on where a chip or crack is located on your windshield.

Vibrations caused by road traffic and changes in temperature can cause cracks to form near existing nicks in the glass. This weakens the glass, increasing the chances of the windshield shattering.

If scratches are the cause of glare, cleaning the windshield with a glass polishing agent or commercial glass scratch remover may be enough to fill in small, fine scratches on the surface of the glass. Apply any compounds or solutions with a clean, soft cloth to prevent scratching the windshield glass more. For deeper scratches you can feel with your fingernail; don't try to repair the scratched glass yourself. Take it to a professional for repair instead.

Reduce Occupant Injury Risk

You or your passengers could be seriously, or even fatally, injured if ejected out of the vehicle in an accident. If a crash occurs, the windshield keeps those riding inside from being thrown from the vehicle. But windshield glass that is already damaged is going to be weaker when placed under additional stress and may not provide that protection.

Your vehicle's windshield also provides support for the roof. If your vehicle rolls over in an accident, the windshield helps prevent the roof from crushing in on you.

Guarantee Proper Function of Air Bags

The windshield contributes to how well a vehicle's air bag system functions, particularly the passenger side air bag. Although a vehicle's dashboard and windshield are supposed to keep an air bag in place once it inflates, a damaged windshield might not remain intact on impact. Consequently, the air bag may not deploy the way it should. When an air bag deploys and hits the windshield, previously weakened glass may break or collapse from the force.