Tag Archives: R. Scott King

Assessing Airbag Anomalies


R. Scott King, BSME, Principal Automotive / Mechanical Engineer

It is probably a good thing that most people could not name the manufacturer of the airbag installed in their vehicle’s steering wheel or dash panel. Airbags should be anonymous, as their brand is irrelevant to the occupants they protect; however, there is one airbag manufacturer that has pierced the veil of airbag anonymity, but for all the wrong reasons: Takata. With tens of millions of airbags recalled world-wide due to numerous serious injuries resulting from exploding metallic canisters, Takata – now in bankruptcy – as well as dozens of its corporate customers, are increasingly becoming the focus of liability investigations when improper airbag performance is suspected.

The “typical” Takata airbag malfunction is manifested during airbag deployment events. Over time, the metallic canister that contains the airbag pyrotechnic charge can weaken. As a result, the deployment detonation that normally ejects the airbag can cause the canister to explode, which produces metallic shards. Albeit rare, a tell-tale sign of canister explosion – apart from finding metallic fragments throughout the occupant compartment, or worse – is finding tears, rips, and holes in the airbag fabric. Although not an exhaustive evaluation, a routine, non-destructive airbag examination can quickly identify this kind of evidence. However, there can be times when unfurling an airbag during a preliminary, post-crash examination is ill-advised. Such was the case in a recent vehicle examination.

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Vehicle Safety Recalls Week, March 2-6


NTSA Recall

R. Scott King, BSME, Principal Automotive / Mechanical Engineer

In 2019 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) administered the recalls of more than 38 million vehicles. Of those recalled vehicles, however, NHTSA estimates that only about 75% were ever fixed. Noticing similar historic uncompleted recall rates, NHTSA has initiated Vehicle Safety Recalls Week. Planned as a twice-yearly event coinciding with spring and fall clock changes, NHTSA hopes that car owners will visit their site and check for vehicle recalls after replacing the batteries in their smoke detectors.

The NHTSA website has a user-friendly search tool that allows owners to enter a vehicle’s 17-digit identification number, often found on a label affixed to the driver’s door jam, and find out whether the vehicle is subject to any uncompleted recall. If it is, the website provides details about the recall and how to get repairs. Moreover, the website database is updated regularly; so, it can be helpful to check regularly. In addition to its primary goal of improving highway safety, this search tool is proven to be a valuable tool in automotive claims and related investigations.

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Event Data Recording Developments in Recreation Vehicles


Event Data Recorder

R. Scott King, BSME, Principal Automotive/Mechanical Engineer

Event data recorders (EDRs) in passenger vehicles and commercial trucks have been in use for nearly 20 years. During that time, they have helped answer many questions regarding how those vehicles have been operated, and performed, in the moments preceding crashes and other recordable events. Indeed, passenger vehicle EDRs have become so prevalent they have even become subject to federal regulations. And now, implantation of that technology has begun to spread to the recreational vehicle segment.

A recent investigation involving a popular inverted, three-wheeled motorcycle revealed it was equipped with a data recorder capable of recording parameters such as speed, brake, and accelerator control for approximately 60 seconds preceding engine shutdown. In that case, the engine stopped running as a result of the crash, thus relevant data was recorded. The data was retrieved using the manufacturer’s proprietary software and the analysis thereof provided important information regarding the circumstances of the incident. Using what was learned in that investigation, researchers looked beyond the subject vehicle to determine whether its manufacturer had deployed this or similar technology in other vehicles. The findings were surprising.

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Brake Safety Week is Here!


Brake Safety

R. Scott King, BSME, Principal Automotive/Mechanical Engineer

A recent Federal DOT report on commercial vehicle crash statistics has shown that of the commercial trucks found to possess pre-crash mechanical deficiencies of any kind, nearly one in three had deficiencies relating to braking. Given the close relationship between braking performance and stopping distance, proper brake system operation should be among the most closely monitored of all vehicle systems. However, brake system defects have comprised the majority of out-of-service violations issued during post-crash and road-side inspections for as long as records have been kept. Thus, safety-minded organizations recognize the need for continual efforts to reduce brake-related defects throughout the commercial vehicle fleet. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) is one such organization.

Throughout each year, the CVSA sponsors various events to promote brake safety and reduce the number, and severity, of commercial truck crashes. Some events are announced in advance and others are not; however, all are a comprehensive visual and functional evaluation of a truck’s braking system. This year, the CVSA has selected September 15-23 as its Brake Safety Week. If this year’s event is similar to past events, the CVSA will inspect well over 10,000 commercial vehicles throughout North America; and, if past patterns hold, here is, approximately, what they will find:

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Fifth-Wheel Decoupling


trucks

R. Scott King, BSME, Principal Automotive / Mechanical Engineer ::::

A commercial semi-trailer detached from its tractor and came to rest within the roadway, blocking several travel lanes. Before the tractor-trailer operator could place her reflective warning devices on the roadway, the operator of an oncoming passenger vehicle approaching the detached trailer steered sharply to avoid it and in doing so, lost control of her vehicle resulting in significant injuries to herself and the occupants within the vehicle. A post-incident investigation revealed the tractor-trailer combination had recently departed its terminal and traveled several miles before detaching. Police investigators concluded that the sole cause of the separation was that the operator failed to properly connect the tractor and trailer before departing for the trip. Forensic engineers, however, came to a more detailed conclusion.

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EDR: An Independent Witness!


R. Scott King, BSME, Principal Automotive / Mechanical Engineer ::::

Among the two most common allegations of vehicle failure after an incident are unintended acceleration and brake failure. Experience has shown that each type of failure is rare but they can and do occur; however, when the allegations are coincident, the likelihood of such a simultaneous failure is even more remote. In these cases, the most plausible explanation is operator error; however, historically proving this has been difficult if not impossible. But new vehicle technologies and the event data recorder (EDR) are changing that.

By now, most claims personnel are aware that many vehicles are equipped with event data recorders capable of recording information relative to a collision. These devices have proven their worth to collision reconstruction engineers over and over. But what many are not aware of is that most new vehicles today are equipped with an electronic throttle control system that uses sensors, wiring, and algorithms to translate accelerator pedal position to the throttle control valve, located on the engine. Fewer still are aware that the EDR in many vehicles can record accelerator pedal position versus throttle control valve position. In simpler terms, the EDR can tell whether a vehicle accelerated on its own, or under driver command, via application of the accelerator pedal. Couple this with the EDR’s ability to record brake pedal application, it provides an independent “witness” of how the pedals were used in the moments preceding a collision.

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