July 28, 2011 by Canadian Underwriter
Phony airbag deployment is an increasingly common element of auto fraud, an accident reconstruction expert told an education seminar held in London, Ontario on July 26.
Gord Jenish, president of Jenish Engineering, presented some common signs indicating the fraudulent deployment of airbags at the ISB Canada education seminar, Combat Auto Fraud.
Jenish noted fraudsters commonly tamper with airbags to make them deploy in an effort to suggest serious car damage. The goal is to increase the amount of a possible insurance claim payout.
Jenish’s presentation included a number of slides illustrating a number of suspicious airbag deployments. A key indicator, he noted, is seeing only one airbag deploy, usually on the driver’s side, but not on the other.
“In almost every vehicle, if one stage of the airbag deploys in a collision because it was a command, the other [airbag] will deploy [immediately], or 100 milliseconds later, just to dispose of it,” Jenish observed. “This is so rescue workers aren’t injured by a live airbag stage [involving an airbag] that remains in place after a collision.”
Other telltale signs of airbag tampering include cut wires, heat damage or missing fixtures. Airbag covers can also point to fraudulent deployment.
Jenish observed airbags release with such force, the airbag covers will often swing upwards and crack the windshield just above the dashboard.
Some fraudsters don’t realize this and the absence of a cracked windshield in the event of an airbag deployment will give them away.
Still others are aware of this and botch the fraud anyway. Jenish told a story in which a fraudster used a hammer to break the windshield in spots that would be damaged in the event that the airbag covers came flying off. Trouble was, the fraudster used the hammer to smash the outside of the windshield, not the inside, an obvious clue to the forensic engineers that the airbag deployment was a fake.
Jenish noted most airbags now come equipped with electronic data recorders (EDR) that can help forensic engineers determine if a fraud has occurred.
For example, he showed one EDR report in which a car, just seconds before the airbag deployed, showed a speed of zero, a throttle reading of zero and yet the brakes were off. The only way this could happen would be for the car to be idling in park,