How Experts Reconstruct a Car Accident
Motor vehicle accident reconstruction is a fairly new area of forensic science, first formalized in the 1980s. The idea is to use scientific processes to analyze contributing factors, such as vehicle performance, driver behavior, road conditions and weather, to determine how and why an accident happened. The process of reconstruction begins with an in-depth investigation of various aspects of the crash:
- Scene inspection — Data recovery begins at the scene where an investigator can survey the grounds, check road conditions, measure skid marks, and, depending on how much time has elapsed, see the debris field. The length of skid marks is very important for approximating the speed of a vehicle prior to the crash. Road conditions impact how much traction a vehicle has when attempting to swerve or stop. Road debris can impact driver behavior and vehicle performance.
- Scene photographs —Since most accidents are cleared before an inspector can get to the site, photographs of the scene play a crucial role in analysis.
- Eyewitness testimony — Although eyewitness testimony is not as reliable as most people believe, it can point the investigator in the right direction.
- Physical evidence inspection — Examining the actual wreckage is very important to determine the angle of collision. The investigator can run tests on intact parts, such as the steering column and braking mechanism, to establish whether a mechanical failure contributed to the accident. Observation of safety mechanisms, such as airbags, seat belts and crumple zones, can determine whether the vehicle performed as designed to protect its occupants.
- Weather — Heavy rain and blinding sun can impair a driver’s vision. Rain, snow and ice can reduce traction to dangerous levels.
- Crash data recorders — Many vehicles are equipped with on-board tools that record pre-crash data, much like the “black box” that airliners use.
Computer modeling has become increasingly important to accident reconstruction. Investigators enter data into a computer with software that enables it to produce an animated simulation of the crash. However, anyone who has ever seen a Road Runner cartoon knows that animation can violate the laws of physics. An accurate simulation is only possible when the investigator has collected reliable data.
If you get into litigation over an accident, the case may become a battle of forensic experts presenting competing views of how the accident transpired. It won’t be enough for your expert to have the best data, he or she must also be able to articulate why that data is more reliable.
Reconstruction should begin as soon as possible after the accident. If you’ve been injured in a vehicle collision, Rush, Hannula, Harkins & Kyler, L.L.P. can help. For a free consultation, call us today at 253.250.4516 or contact our office online.