When They’re Not Accidents – Investigating Automobile Collisions

Most people refer to a vehicle collision as an accident. However, since there is liability associated with an accident, the term seems to be a misnomer. It is so common to refer to it as an accident that investigators in this field are often referred to as accident reconstructionists. If it is an accident, this means there is no fault at all. It may as well mean for some unexplained reason, forces of the universe have met at a certain point in time and place and a result occurred that defies explanation. It means that it has likely never happened before and will probably never occur again in the future. In fact, the term accident is defined in the Merriam dictionary as an unforeseen event or circumstance. This hardly explains a vehicle collision. It is also why reconstructionists should be referred to as collision reconstructionists.

Collision investigators reconstruct collisions for several reasons. The most important , in my mind, and yet more subtle reasons for looking into significant collisions is to identify any environmental factors that may have been a primary contributor to the collision. This may prevent additional collisions at a certain location from causing further injuries or fatalities. They are often the most easily and quickly remedied. Another benefit for examining these collisions is to identify any safety concerns in vehicles for equipment or structural failures. Although this prevents further unwarranted injuries or fatalities, these are less common and more difficult to see through to the end. Lastly, there is the investigation to determine fault or liability.

Often in vehicle collisions, the events can be foreseen, although not always observed. They can certainly be explained and liability assigned. This happens daily in every city. In order to explain how events occur and why and then to assign liability reconstructionists must seek causation. In doing so, contributing factors need to be considered in determining causation. These factors may include driver behaviors, environmental factors, and vehicular factors.

Once a roadway hazard is perceived by a driver, the driver reacts to the hazard, and physics takes over. There is one of two outcomes as a result. There is a collision or a collision avoidance. In the case of a collision, there is a multitude of factors that affect the outcome of the impact. The investigator must consider acceleration, braking, speed, friction, and direction, energy and momentum, all of which has to be carefully analyzed. An affective reconstructionist has the unique ability and fortitude to compute many of these factors based on roadway evidence, scaled measurements, and sometimes recorded data.

Collision Reconstructionists are uniquely trained to take the investigation further into causation factors. Our investigators consider many factors prior to and after the collision, as well as, being trained to meticulously explain the details of a collision itself, where more events occur in 1/10th of a second than most can imagine.

For example, in a scenario where two vehicles collide at an intersection, a reconstructionist is interested in the pre-collision events. Where were the driver’s traveling from? Where was their intended destination? What was their frame of mind at time of departure? What do the cell phone records reveal prior to the collision? In addition and all too often, were the driver’s intoxicated?

Once these questions can be answered, the next issue at hand is the scene of the collision. Hopefully, this is where the responding police department has protected the scene for preservation of evidence and, subsequently, conducted a thorough investigation by obtaining all possible witness statements, marked any and all roadway evidence, and successfully measured the scene using a total station or other scene mapping equipment. These and others are all vital requirements for a successful private practice reconstructionist to review the case and identify any factors that may be important to a civil or criminal case. One rule to keep in mind is there is very seldom evidence not tampered with from bystanders or other emergency personnel whose primary job is not to preserve evidence but save lives.

While reviewing the results of the investigation or revisiting a scene, a reconstructionist must look for environmental factors such as was the sun at a position to blind a driver’s view, are there trees or other objects blocking a view of traffic, was the traffic regulating equipment working properly. We can then begin to look at the roadway makeup and condition at the time of the collision. Another factor to consider is contributing vehicle factors by the units involved. Are there any vehicle recalls and have the repairs been completed by an approved mechanic? Have there been any recent collisions that may have caused prior damage to a vehicle that made this specific wreck worse than it should have been? Was the vehicles equipment operating properly at the time of the collision?

In addition to these telling details is the vehicle damage. There is a very accurate story told by the damage that often cannot be altered. The principle direction of force or PDOF will fold a vehicles exterior in the direction the collision occurred. Reconstructionists can also tell which lights were on during a collision, even if they are off once the collision occurs (an affect called “hot shock”). In the case of law enforcement investigations, often a driver who wishes to avoid the fact that he was driving can be identified by a foot print left on a brake or accelerator pedal. A private reconstructionist must look at how law enforcement identified a person as the driver so appropriate liability can be assigned.

As you can see, a solid collision investigation can fill a large file of detailed reporting by someone who has received the proper training and has obtained the right experience for the needs of a client. Our investigators have responded on scene to thousands of collisions, many fatal, and have had the unique opportunity to observe the evidence minutes after the collision has occurred. This is unique our investigators who have law enforcement backgrounds, experienced in civil depositions and testimony, as well as, successful criminal cases.

A physicist or an engineer can calculate your data or explain the damage to vehicles based on principles and graphs, but our investigators have had the first hand experience that gives our clients the edge in a successful case. Our training has come from nationally prominent authorities in our field and our experience has come through being at the scene of every type of incident our clients may incur from single vehicle to a passenger car vs commercial vehicle. If there is a need for commercial vehicle inspections, we are also able to provide them when needed for an investigation at varying levels. In addition, we have the equipment, training, and ability to image event data recorders to obtain collision information such as seat-belt use, braking indicators, speed, airbag deployment, and much more.

Read more