Is there a difference in the evidence in the aftermath of a typical vehicle fire versus an explosion where explosive materials are involved? The answer is yes. This photo of a typical truck fire shows that, although combustible materials are burned off typical motor vehicle fires result in the burned vehicle keeping its shape and structure after the fire.

Initial concerns were that an attempted terrorist attack took place when a speeding vehicle “exploded” at the US Customs booths at the Rainbow Bridge crossing between the Province of Ontario and the State of New York. Subsequently FBI officials were quoted as saying :

The word “explosion” can be easily misinterpreted. News media frequently use this term when there has been a violent collision accompanied by fire. But the results of an explosion where explosive materials are involved are quite different than what you would see in a motor vehicle collision where no explosive materials existed. While the debris field at the Rainbow Bridge crash has not been shown in detail the descriptions suggest that some sore of explosion occurred that is not consistent with a typical motor vehicle collision. Since the FBI confirmed that “no explosive materials” existed, what caused the explosion?

It has only been a few days since the incident occurred it is reasonable to expect that some analysis will be needed by investigators to understand what actually took place. Even if no event data recordings are obtained from the vehicle a rudimentary speed calculation can be made by examining the launch angle and the trajectory up to the landing of the vehicle. And analysis of the video can also approximate the vehicle speed.

What may not be easily understood is what factors were at play to cause the vehicle to accelerate to such a very high speed in a confined distance. When there is doubt investigators often revert to the catch-all that driver error or intent must have been at play. Yet there are incidents of “sudden unintended acceleration” that may be related to the more complex control systems that exist in more modern vehicles. When potential vehicle defects could exist it is difficult to confirm when large vehicle manufacturers maintain their proprietary information close to their chests. It is quickly forgotten that defects can exist for a number of years, sometimes with manufacturer knowledge. An example of this involved the GM ignition switch defect of a few years ago which resulted in the deaths of at least hundreds of vehicle occupants before a discovery was made by an independent mechanic that a defect existed in the GM ignition switch.