Many media reports of automobile accidents end with a statement that the accident is still under investigation. What does this sentence mean? How can an accident be “reconstructed”? The answer can be found in a description of the work of the Collision Reconstruction Unit of the New York State Police.
An overview of accident reconstruction
The members of the Collision Reconstruction Unit (CRU) are law enforcement officers who have received special training in the art and science of using the clues found at an accident scene to determine the respective speed and direction of the involved vehicles, the position of the vehicles before and after the collision, and the physical condition of the vehicles.
The members of the CRU often spend many hours at the accident scene searching for and collecting physical evidence. Physical evidence usually includes tire marks, pavement scarring, vehicle damage, and debris patterns. The CRU often makes a video recording of the evidence that can be used later to verify the location of physical evidence.
Members of the CRU often rely on evidence gathered by other experts, such as vehicle autopsies, injury patterns, crash data retrieval, toxicology reports, and witness interviews. The CRU then applies physics, chemistry and mathematics and other scientific disciplines to determine vehicle speed and – most importantly – whether any of the drivers involved in the collision appear to have violated state traffic laws.
The CRU team has a number of books and other publications that contain data about the distortion resistance of specific makes of automobiles, the tensile strength of the steel used in the manufacture of a specific vehicle, and other useful properties of the cars involved in the collision.
Using data to solve the case
When all of the evidence and data have been thoroughly analyzed, the CRU prepares a report in which it presents its analysis of the events that comprised the accident. The report is, in effect, a reconstruction of the accident as it happened. The report is used by prosecutors looking for potential criminal behavior and by lawyers representing injured parties.