Many media reports of automobile accidents end with the statement that an investigation of the accident is “continuing.” This phrase may seem counterintuitive if the media report is published several hours after the collision occurred.
Most, if not all, of the accident debris will have been cleaned up, and the remains of the damaged vehicles will have been removed to a storage facility. The nature of the “continuing investigation” can be uncovered by reviewing the services provided by forensic engineers who specialize in accident reconstruction.
The beginning of the forensic investigation
Almost every police department in the United States, including the New York Highway Patrol, maintains an accident reconstruction division. These units include forensic engineers, computer specialists, and other scientific personnel whose training and experience allows them to collect and analyze accident data.
This analysis begins with a thorough examination of the scene of the accident. This examination includes measurements of skid marks, the distances traveled by the vehicles after the collision, numerous photographs of the scene and the damaged vehicles. Statements are also taken from witnesses, including persons who may have been in the colliding vehicles.
In the laboratory
All accident reconstruction teams, including police units and private engineering firms, maintain an extensive laboratory that facilitates further evaluations of evidence from the accident scene. A forensic engineer may consult a manufacturer’s data about a specific vehicle, including weight, braking specifications, resistance to impact damage, and similar information.
Using this information and applying fundamental laws of physics, the forensic engineer can determine the exact moment and location of the first impact. This analysis allows the engineer to determine whether any of the involved drivers made an error in controlling their vehicle, from excessive speed to failure to signal at a turn.
If the nature of the accident warrants further investigation, the engineers can use videographic specialists to digitally recreate the collision. These videos can be designed to depict the series of events leading to the collision. These video reconstructions are especially helpful if either a criminal or civil trial is the eventual outcome. Many successful auto accident attorneys also rely on accident reconstruction experts to help them prepare their cases for trial.