Many media accounts of traffic accidents close with the statement “The investigation is continuing.” To a layperson, this statement seems mysterious. How can an investigation continue after the accident has happened and the debris cleared away? The answer is this: an accident investigation can continue by using the techniques of forensic engineering.
Beginning the investigation
An accident investigation conducted by trained forensic engineers and other scientists begins with a careful survey of the crash site. Investigators make a careful inventory of all features of the site, including skid marks; gouges to the turf; damage to roadside features, such as signs, fences and the location and position of the involved vehicles. The investigators make extensive written and visual records of what they see, using still cameras, video cameras and accurate measuring equipment such as lasers. The investigators will also talk to any witnesses they can find. The witness statements are usually recorded for later use.
Back at the lab
After completing the inventory of the crash site, the investigators will return to their offices where they will make extensive calculations of the forces involved in the accident, including vehicle speeds, angles of impact and the degree of damage inflicted on the involved vehicles. These calculations use the laws of physics and chemistry to reconstruct the movement of the vehicles before and during the collision.
One of the most powerful tools used by accident investigators is digital imaging. This software allows the engineers to feed the data they have collected into a computer animation program that will “reconstruct” the accident and create a 2D or 3D video image of the collision. This reconstruction is used by industry engineers to improve the safety of automobiles, but its most striking use is a showing to a jury if the accident produces a lawsuit. A video of the accident can be the single most persuasive piece of evidence that a jury will see.
Getting your questions answered
Gaining knowledge of accident reconstruction can be the key to providing a persuasive answer to the questions “What happened?” and “Who was at fault?” That knowledge may help you a great deal going forward.