Case Description

It was alleged that, because paper file material was found between a decedent and a deployed driver airbag at a crash scene, the decedent must have been reading the file material while driving, which was a contributory factor in the crash.  The case involved a fatal collision in which the file folder was found by rescue personnel to be trapped between the driver’s head and the deployed airbag.

Steps Taken

ARCCA’s work entailed conducting a scientific study to determine the interaction of a deploying airbag and paper materials (file folder) placed in front of the deploying airbag, and to assess if the file material could possibly have been between the occupant and the airbag prior to the crash.  An allegation was proffered that paper file material positioned in front of the steering wheel before a crash would have remained in place after the crash.

However, based on the analysis of high-speed video, objects such as paper or a file folder displayed evidence in the form of shredding or impact damage from the airbag flap and dynamic abrasions from the unfolding airbag.  A 2000 Ford Taurus exemplar vehicle was used for the study.

Airbag deployment during an impact must take place very early in the crash pulse in order to afford protection to the occupant.  The very design of the airbag requires that the system sense the impact force, evaluate the crash pulse through an algorithm, determine if the airbag should in fact deploy, determine if both stages of the system should fire and fully inflate the bag into design shape in approximately 30-50 milliseconds.123 This requires an aggressive inflation speed for the airbag to reach its design shape before occupant contact.

Final Findings

The results of ARCCA’s study scientifically showed that exemplar material placed in front of the airbag would not remain in position during an airbag deployment following accepted test protocols and applicable standards.  It cannot be concluded that an object resting on the surface of the airbag after the crash was actually positioned there before the crash, simply because of the intense nature of the inflation process.


1 General Service Information AME, V70, 2003
3 Shokoohi, F., Airbag Sensor Fire Time – Occupant Performance Criterion, SAE 950873