Many media reports of traffic accidents conclude with the phrase “The Sheriff’s Office is investigating the crash.” A recent report of a collision between an automobile and a school bus ended with this exact phrase (except for the deletion of the name of the county where the accident occurred.) What does this phrase mean? Are investigators still on the scene after the wreckage and accident debris have been cleared away?
The techniques of accident reconstruction (or “accident investigation” as it is frequently called) form a vital part of law enforcement’s ability to understand both how and why accidents happen. The results of these investigations are very useful in both civil and criminal cases.
Upon arriving at the scene of an accident, the reconstruction team (most of whom hold engineering degrees) will make a careful inventory of the site. Hundreds of photos will be taken. Skid marks and other signs of the collision will be carefully measured. Debris, such as fenders, headlamps and other pieces of the involved vehicles, will be collected and carefully inventoried. The debris, including the damaged vehicles, will be taken to a storage facility where it can be carefully studied and measured.
The forensic engineers who conduct these investigations keep large libraries of books that contain measurements of how various makes and models of trucks and automobiles can be deformed by the impact of a collision with another vehicle.
Using the numbers
All this information can then be inserted into formulae that allow the engineers to calculate the speed and direction of each vehicle before the collision occurred. The vehicles’ mechanical systems will be studied for signs of malfunction or poor maintenance.
Using sophisticated computer software, the investigators can create a video that shows the vehicles’ movements moments before the collision. These videos can be persuasive evidence of a criminal act such as speeding or reckless driving. In civil cases involving claims for damages, an accident reconstruction video can be the key to a plaintiff recovering a substantial verdict.
The car-bus collision mentioned at the outset of this post does not disclose many facts about how the accident happened. A skillful accident reconstruction may be necessary if the injured woman decides to commence a lawsuit to recover damages.