Many media accounts of traffic accidents end with the statement that “The accident is undergoing further investigation.” This post will explain the meaning of the very vague phrase “further investigation.”
What is being investigated
A lay person may ask what is being investigated after the wreckage has been removed from the scene and any injured individuals have been taken to hospitals for medical treatment. Accident investigation, or accident reconstruction, as it is sometimes called, is a branch of forensic engineering that attempts to measure the position of the vehicles at various points in the accident scenario.
For an example, an important issue is the speed of each vehicle. This number can usually be calculated from a careful measurement of skid marks and a determination of the weight of the vehicle. The investigators will also attempt to calculate the vehicle’s response to steering and braking by the driver.
An accident reconstruction usually begins with a detailed visual inventory of the accident site. Investigators make a careful record of the position of each vehicle and pieces of debris. The site may be photographed, and many investigators make a video recording of the complete scene. Depending on the nature of the accident, the damaged vehicles may be taken to a garage or other storage facility managed by the investigation team. Additional measurements of the damage to each vehicle are made to determine the forces involved in the collision.
Uses of an accident reconstruction
The results of an accident reconstruction are often reported to traffic safety organizations with the hope that the information will result in safer vehicles and better design and construction of highways and intersections. An accident reconstruction may be used as evidence in either a civil or criminal trial. In a criminal trial, the investigation will be used as evidence to prove the guilt of the driver (or drivers). In a civil trial, the accident reconstruction report may be used to establish which driver was at fault for the collision.
Getting accident reconstruction advice from a professional
Many experienced accident attorneys use an accident reconstruction investigation to help prove their client’s case. In many instances, the engineers who prepared the report will be asked to prepare a visual rendering of the accident for presentation to the jury.