A newspaper account of a recent accident in which a motorcyclist died after colliding with a semi-trailer truck closed with the statement that “The sheriff said a specialized team will investigate the accident.” How can a team of investigators probe the events that led to an accident after the damaged vehicles and accident debris have been cleared from the site? The answer to this question can be found in the field of forensic engineering.
Accident reconstruction experts are usually engineers who have received special training in the field of forensic engineering. Many law enforcement agencies have such teams, and several private engineering firms in Georgia also provide accident reconstruction services. In “reconstructing” an accident, the investigator first makes a careful inspection of the scene of the accident, photographing the involved vehicles, their skid marks, the damage sustained by each vehicle, fluid mark and gouges in the pavement.
The investigators also take note of the injuries that individuals suffered while riding the vehicles. The investigators carefully measure the length of skid marks and damage to roadside structures such as railings, bridges, signs and buildings. Witness statements are also a key part of the information gathering. Investigators may also check for roadside safety measures, such as signs, lights, sight distance and signage.
Applying the laws of physics
Once the scene has been thoroughly recorded, the investigators will take their measurements and observations to their laboratory for important calculations. For example, if a vehicle’s mass is known (virtually all manufacturers provide this information), the investigator can use the length of skid marks to determine the vehicle’s speed at the time of the collision. The amount of damage that the vehicles suffered can also help investigators determine the speed of the vehicles.
Using the results of the investigation
Police officers often use the results of their investigation in court to prove whether any traffic laws were violated. Civil attorneys pursuing damage cases use accident reconstruction to assist them in proving which driver was at fault. If needed, the investigators can use their data and calculations to create a computer simulation of the accident.