Since 1972, NCSA's Special Crash Investigations (SCI) Program has provided NHTSA with the most in depth and detailed level of crash investigation data collected by the agency. The data collected ranges from basic data maintained in routine police and insurance crash reports to comprehensive data from special reports by professional crash investigation teams. Hundreds of data elements relevant to the vehicle, occupants, injury mechanisms, roadway, and safety systems involved are collected for each of the over 200 crashes designated for study annually.

SCI cases are intended to be an anecdotal data set useful for examining special crash circumstances or outcomes from an engineering perspective. The benefit of this program lies in its ability to locate unique real-world crashes anywhere in the country, and perform in depth clinical investigations in a timely manner which can be utilized by the automotive safety community to improve the performance of its state-of-the-art safety systems. Individual and select groups of cases have triggered both individual companies and the industry as a whole to improve the safety performance of motor vehicles, including passenger cars, light trucks, or school buses.

Summary tables of air bag related fatal and serious injury cases are available, as are copies of completed SCI reports.

Case Selection

Cases of interest are located from an extensive and diverse network of sources, including NHTSA's Auto Safety Hotline, the Department of Transportation's National Crash Alert System, NHTSA's regional offices, automotive manufacturers, other government agencies, law enforcement agencies, engineers, and medical personnel.

Actual case selection is based on the program manager's discretion. The program's flexibility allows for the detailed investigation of any new emerging technologies, including the safety performance of alternative fueled vehicles, child safety restraints, adapted vehicles, safety belts, vehicle-pedestrian interactions, and potential safety defects. Historically, resources have been concentrated on crashes involving automatic restraints (air bags and safety belts), and school busses.

Data Collection

Professional crash investigators obtain data and photographs from crash sites, which includes studying evidence such as skid marks, gouges, fluid spills, and broken glass. They locate the vehicles involved, photograph them, measure the crash damage, and identify interior locations that were contacted by the occupants. The investigators follow up their on-site investigations by interviewing crash victims and other involved parties, and by reviewing medical records to determine the nature and severity of injuries.

Interviews are conducted with discretion and are held confidential. The research teams are interested only in information that will help them understand the nature and consequences of the crashes. Personal information about individuals, such as names, addresses, license numbers, and even specific crash locations, are not included in any public SCI file. Each investigation provides extensive information about pertinent pre-crash, crash, and post-crash events involving the occupants, vehicles, rescue, and environmental factors which may have contributed to the event's occurrence or severity. Included in each report is an analysis and determination of the occupant kinematics and vehicle dynamics as they occurred throughout the crash. Detailed performance evaluations of the air bag and any other safety features (particularly those related to any of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) are provided.

The participation and cooperation of automotive manufacturers, suppliers, law enforcement agencies, hospitals, physicians, medical examiners, coroners, tow yard operators, and the individuals involved in crashes are essential to the success of the SCI program.

Air Bags

More than 1,200 air bag investigations have been conducted to date, about 50 per year. The SCI program established a census of the early air bag vehicle crashes which played a pivotal role in the establishment of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208. Due to the rapid growth of air bag equipped vehicles into the marketplace in 1988, the program shifted gears from investigation of each air bag vehicle crash to investigating special interest cases involving such issues as non-deployment crashes, air bag related injuries, interaction with child safety seats, and new air bag equipped vehicles crashes. These SCI air bag cases have been utilized by the agency and the automotive safety community to understand the real world performance of their state-of-the-art systems, and have been instrumental in influencing subsequent changes to a number of production air bag systems.

School Buses

Thirty-nine school bus crash investigations have been conducted to date. Included in this count are incidents of children being killed or injured as they enter or exit the loading zone. These cases are a useful tool to NHTSA in assessing the real world performance of conventional, transit, and van-based school bus crashworthiness and crash avoidance issues. Such issues have included mirror systems, hand rail designs, video monitoring of pupils, safety belt use, and joint strength.

Emerging Technology

The SCI program's flexibility allows for the detailed investigation of any new emerging technologies related to automotive safety. A number of incidents involving alternative fuel vehicles, passenger side air bag deployments, vehicle-to-pedestrian impacts, and child safety restraints have been investigated. As was the case with the early SCI air bag investigations, these anecdotal investigations will be utilized by NHTSA and the automotive safety community to understand the real world performance of these state-of-the-art systems, and will result in increased safety from subsequent second and third generation improvements to these new technologies.

Availability of SCI Information

Requests for copies of completed SCI reports can be obtained from the SCI office. The reports contain text, slides and/or photographs or digital images and there is a cost associated with the reproduction of the crash report. You must provide the Case Number when requesting an SCI report. This is listed in the first column of the Summary Tables, which can be accessed from the pull down menu above. Only those cases listed as 'Available' can be requested. 'Active' and 'Under Review' cases are still in the quality control process and are not completed.

Copies of completed SCI reports are made available to the crash victims, families of crash victims, and the investigating police jurisdiction upon request. Copies are automatically sent to the automobile manufacturer of the subject vehicle.

Completed SCI reports can be reviewed at the Arlington, Virginia archives upon request to the proper address. There is a nominal cost for case retrieval and handling.