Accidents—whether an auto accident, a construction accident, or an industrial accident—can be complicated phenomena. Even a complex accident like a multi-car auto accident can begin and end in a few seconds. Understanding the exact sequence of events can be critical for many parties: designers, public safety agencies, people seeking damages for the negligence of another party or traffic engineers.
Media accounts of such accidents often end with the phrase “The investigation is continuing.” What does this phrase mean? In most cases, the continuing investigation means that a group of specially trained engineers and other scientists are using the basic laws of physics and chemistry to understand the sequence of events that led to the catastrophe. Their jobs are jointly referred to by the phrase “accident reconstruction.”
The basic concept of accident reconstruction
As stated by professionals in the field, “auto accident reconstruction” is the use of cutting-edge tools and scientific reconstruction techniques to answer the question of why an accident occurred. The most common use of accident reconstruction is the analysis of auto accidents, but the same techniques can be used to determine why a scaffold collapsed or the wall of an excavation caved in.
The initial steps
An accident investigation team usually arrives at the site within a short time after the collision occurs. The first job is to make a complete inventory of the site, recording the location of vehicles, marks made by the accident such as skid marks and tracks in the grass. The team also makes careful notes about the location of debris and the damage inflicted on each vehicle.
The team will also make a complete photographic record, documenting the location of the vehicles and any marks made by the vehicles. The record will include both still photographs and a video record of the scene. The team will also attempt to recover Crash Data Retrieval Systems from onboard event data recorders.
In the lab
Once the team has completed its onsite investigation, it will take the information that was gathered back to the team’s laboratory for further analysis. The Crash Data Retrieval System will provide valuable information about the drivers’ last actions before the collision. The respective speed of each vehicle will be determined based on skid marks and information retrieved from the Crash Data Retrieval Systems.
Most forensic engineering labs contain many volumes that provide information about the resistance to impacts of various automotive bodies. When combined from other information gathered at the scene, these data compilations allow the investigators to determine the speed and direction of vehicles just prior to and during the impact.
Demonstrating the results of the investigation
Once the gathering and evaluation of data gathered at the accident scene is complete, the investigators may elect to use sophisticated computer programs to produce a simulation of the accident. This simulation can be used in many ways, but its most common use is presentation of the facts of an accident to a civil jury in a lawsuit for damages.
Solid legal counsel
A complex and sophisticated accident reconstruction is not necessary for every collision. However, if the injuries are severe and the amount of damages may be large, an accident reconstruction may be very helpful to the plaintiffs’ recovery. An experienced accident attorney can make a seasoned judgment about whether to retain an accident reconstruction firm.