Many media reports of traffic accidents often end with the statement that the accident is “undergoing further investigation.” Such statements often appear long after the debris from the accident has been cleared from the spot where the accident occurred. How can an investigation be “continued” after the physical evidence of the crash has been cleared from the site? The answer is accident reconstruction. Accident reconstruction is a branch of forensic engineering that is devoted to understanding the physics of an accident long after the accident has occurred.
The first steps
The first steps in accident reconstruction are taken as soon as possible after the accident has occurred. Police and other specialists take many photographs of the accident site. Skid marks are carefully measured for length and depth. The degree of damage suffered by each vehicle is also photographed and measured. The accident reconstruction industry publishes many books which contain tables about the extent to which each model can resist being deformed in a collision. By comparing these tables with documented damage, investigators can determine the speed at which the vehicle was traveling just before impact.
High tech reconstruction tools
Most crash investigators use a combination of satellite imagery and drone photography to obtain an accurate map of the crash site. If a case likely to face a jury, the investigators will often prepare a digital movie of the reconstructed accident, showing the movement of the vehicles and the causes of the collision.
One of the most useful tools available to accident investigators is eyewitness testimony. Both bystanders and persons riding in the involved vehicles can provide investigators with descriptions of the movement of vehicles before any collision occurred.
Experienced accident attorneys often commission their own accident reconstructions. These attorneys use the results of these reconstructions to explain the accident to the jury and to explain why their client should prevail.