Many media accounts of traffic accidents end with the statement that the accident “is still under investigation.” How can an accident be investigated if the involved vehicles and accident debris have been removed from the site? The answer can be found in a brief inquiry into the science of accident reconstruction.
Accident reconstruction basics
Accident reconstruction is accomplished through careful observations and measurements. The reconstruction process begins with a complete record of the accident scene. Investigators first record all aspects of the accident, including the location of vehicles, debris, and, unhappily, bodies.
These observations are made from on-the-scene measurements of skid marks, tire tracks, and similar information. Investigators may also use digital photography. In many cases, the involved vehicles are removed from the site to a garage or similar storage facility for further study.
Once removed from the scene, the vehicles are carefully examined and measured to record the extent of damage, especially the distortion of the frame and the body of every vehicle. Accident reconstruction engineers can then use standard industry references to calculate the force of the impact and from that, the speed of each vehicle. As information is gathered, the investigators plot the location of each vehicle from the beginning of the accident sequence through each point of contact.
Depending upon the nature of the investigation, the investigators may use computer graphics to re-create a video movie of the sequence of events leading up to the accident. The investigators also have access to many industry studies showing the extent to which various models will yield to impact of a given force.
By combining on-site documentation, laboratory measurement, and computer graphics, a reconstruction specialist can recreate the sequence of events that caused the accident and the damage that resulted from the collision.
Is accident reconstruction used in every case?
Accident reconstruction can be a very expensive adjunct to a standard accident investigation. Whether the case justifies the cost of the reconstruction investigation generally depends upon the damages that may be collected after a successful trial. An experienced injury attorney can provide helpful advice about the utility of a full-fledged accident reconstruction.