What do you think? Is this the image of a vehicle in which the driver should die?
1996 Ford F150 - subject vehicle
Do you think that motorists need air bag crash protection in a frontal collision in this low speed impact? FORD DOES.
Did you know that a driver could be essentially decapitated if he is too close to a deploying air bag in an 11 mph frontal impact? FORD DID.On June 20, 2001, Andrew Gaudio was driving to his job site at about 4:15A.M. He was driving his employer's 1996 Ford F150 pick up truck. It was dark and quiet as he drove along a rural road in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvannia. What he did not know was that the stop sign normally located along this roadway at a T-intersection
Ford F-150 at scene (side view).
Ford F-150 at scene (rear view).
Andrew was found on the seat of the truck. The crash was so minor that even loose tools in the bed of the truck were undisturbed.
The NHTSA engineer and our consultants have concluded that Andrew suffered catastrophic injuries because the air bag deployed late. The air bag system in this truck used what are known as "crash sensors" located in the front of the vehicle - in what is called the "crash zone". Thus, in the typical barrier test at 14 mph, the front end will be sufficiently deformed to trigger the sensors and in turn these electrical devices send a message to cause the air bag to deploy. The problem with this system, recognized by Ford and everyone else in the motor vehicle industry, is that if the crash speed is less than 14 mph and the impact surface is "soft" (eg., a yielding object) and there is no damage in the area where the sensors are installed, then either the air bag will not deploy or it will deploy late. Late deployment of an air bag is extraordinarily dangerous. But, why? Because an air bag as designed must be deployed very quickly, which in turn requires a very powerful charge which deploys the air bag at a very high speed - between 120 mph and 200 mph. Obviously, if a motorist is striken by an air bag deploying at over 120 mph, there is major concern for injury. That then is why air bag designers developed what became a mantra for the timing of air bag deployment: "30 milliseconds and 5 inches". Here is the testimony of one Ford engineer:
Q. Okay. Let me ask you an issue about
timing, air bag deployment timing.
Based on your experience, are you
familiar with the rule of thumb: Five inches minus
Q. And tell me what that means.
A. What you want to have basically is the
air bag fully inflated before the dummy moves five
inches, and that would be in a 30 miles an hour
Q. Okay. And that's in fact one of the
ways that you set the parameters for the timing of
an air bag, correct, because it takes an air bag
about 30 milliseconds to inflate, so you want the
fire signal to occur 30 milliseconds before the
dummy is moved five inches, right?
A. In a general sense, yes.
Q. All right. Now, if an air bag deploys
after the dummy has moved five inches, would that
deployment be considered late?
A. It would depend on what kind of crash
you're talking about.
PLAINTIFFS' CLAIMS OF LIABILITY
Andrew Gaudio died needlessly. Air bags are suppose to provide added protection for motorists, not kill them! The problem is quite obvious. Ford designed the air bag system in this truck to fire under accident circumstances when an air bag was not needed.
Ford designed the 1996 F-150 truck with a sensor system that will always deploy in a 14 mph speed change and never deploy when the speed change is less than 8 mph. In between these two speeds is a "gray area" when the air bag may or may not deploy.
Ford's Knowledge and Alternative Designs
The risk of severe injury is low in low speed crashes absent bag deployment:
- Fatality risk less than 1% at 20 MPH (Malliaris, 1985 and Viano, 1988).
- Serious injury risk less than 11% at 20 MPH (Malliaris, 1985).
- Serious injury risk less than 6% at 20 MPH (Viano, 1988).
- Mercedes-Benz reported no major injury severity up to 18.6 MPH (Kallina, 1997).
The 1996 F-150 air bag systems was inadequately designed because the deployment threshold was set too low. By 1992, Ford realized that a frontal air bag system required an "intelligent diagnostic module" (Breed, SAE 1992). That system, used in Ford cars by 1996 included an occupant compartment sensor which served as a method to confirm that a specific crash acceleration was sufficient to require air bag deployment. But, Ford did not put that system in its light trucks. Another alternative was to raise the bias on the crash zone sensors (as GM had done in its light trucks by 1996) moving from 2.5g bias to a 6g bias, in which case the sensor would only send a deployment signal in those incidents, unlike this one, in which deployment is needed.