Many media accounts of traffic accidents end with the statement “The investigation is continuing.” This perplexing statement leaves the layperson to wonder how an investigation can continue if the physical evidence of a crash has been cleared away.
The answer lies in a special branch of mechanical engineering known as “forensic engineering.”
What is forensic engineering?
Forensic engineering is a branch of mechanical engineering that specializes in the recreation of physical events, such as a traffic accident or mechanical failure.
Forensic engineers use the sciences of physics, chemistry, photography, mathematics and data processing to provide police, scientists, and other investigators with a description of the events involved in a traffic accident or similar event.
Understanding a forensic accident investigation
Forensic investigators attempt to arrive at the scene of an accident as soon as possible. Upon arrival, they first make careful notes about the location of each vehicle involved in the collision and any marks left by the vehicles, such as skid marks, gouges in the turf and damage to any of the other involved vehicles.
The investigators also collect all physical evidence at the scene, such as vehicle parts and damage to each vehicle. The investigators also make a careful visual record of the scene using digital still and video cameras. The data collected at the scene is then taken to the investigator’s laboratory for further analysis.
At the laboratory
Forensic investigators have several tools that they can employ to continue their investigation. They can consult studies of the impact resistance of various motor vehicles, the mass and momentum of different vehicles, and the likely behavior of these vehicles in a collision under the conditions that were found at the accident site.
Perhaps the ultimate goal of the forensic engineer is a digital reconstruction of the accident. A digital reconstruction can show the position of each vehicle before and during the accident. Outside events, such as weather, precipitation, and condition of the pavement, can be easily inserted into the video record.
Showing a digital reconstruction to a jury can help an attorney illustrate the events that caused the accident, including most importantly the negligence of driver who was at fault.