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Behind the Scene of a Car Accident Investigation

By David Boehrer | Posted on October 05, 2020

When a traffic fatality occurs, a crash reconstruction team is called to the accident scene to assist the police with an investigation. By photographing evidence, taking measurements, and logging data, the team can reconstruct the crash to determine accident details and driver fault.

Car Accident Investigations

While some traffic accidents only result in fender benders and minor scrapes and bruises, others result in serious property damages, injuries, and deaths. When someone dies in a motor vehicle accident, a special team of investigators is called in to gather important details surrounding the crash and prove driver fault for the accident. This information is commonly used by insurance companies and accident lawyers to settle insurance claims or pursue wrongful death lawsuits on behalf of the deceased victim’s family members.

First responders to the scene of a car accident are usually police officers and emergency medical technicians (EMTs). While police are there to investigate the crash, EMTs respond when injury victims require medical assistance or transport to a hospital. When someone dies in a car crash, accident investigators are called. There are three main groups of people who examine car accidents:

  • Police Officers – Police officers investigate car accidents for indications of traffic violations, alcohol and/or drug use, and criminal activity. They also investigate accidents involving commercial drivers who may have exceeded their limits for hours of service.
  • Independent Investigators – Independent accident investigators look for negligence to recover compensatory damages. Their job is to analyze the causes of the accident, so insurance companies can determine liability and financial responsibly. 
  • Insurance Companies – Insurance adjusters investigate car accidents to determine who caused the accident, who is responsible for damages, and how much money is owed to an injury victim, usually handled through a settlement offer to avoid litigation.

Investigating the Scene of the Accident

Since police officers are usually the first to arrive at the scene of a car accident, they note preliminary information including the date and time of the accident; the accident location; road and weather conditions; the number of injuries and/or fatalities; and the presence of alcohol and/or drugs. If the accident involves a fatality, police will contact special investigators to collect information at the scene.

Crash reconstruction teams and independent investigators, often retired or off-duty police officers, automotive technologists, or full-time professional accident investigators usually investigate car accidents. Most investigators are called to the scene of the accident to gather pertinent evidence before it’s compromised by time, weather conditions, and human activity. The accident scene investigation usually includes:

  • Taking photos of vehicles and objects at the accident scene
  • Taking measurements of skid marks to determine vehicle speeds
  • Examining road design and construction factors
  • Reviewing available footage from nearby security cameras
  • Gathering eyewitness statements
  • Examining data stored in vehicles’ data recorders (black boxes)

A car crash investigator looks for evidence at the scene that will help to determine the cause of the accident. This may include debris on the road; puddles of oil or gasoline; uneven pavement; stationary objects; measurements between the point of impact and vehicle resting places after the collision; and evidence of driver impairment such as alcohol, drugs, medications, and drowsy driving. Henderson accident lawyers see serious car crashes on Nevada highways caused by drunk and drowsy drivers leaving casinos.

Crash investigators also examine all vehicles involved in the crash to look for vehicle damages, missing or broken seat belts, malfunctioning headlights and taillights, the position of turn signal levers, and vehicle locations following crash impact.

Reconstructing the Crash

Once an accident investigator has inspected all vehicles and gathered all evidence at the scene of the accident, he/she can reconstruct the crash by using mathematics and physics. Measurements are often taken with a high-tech instrument called “the pole,” similar to a surveyor’s tool. It’s a device that uses electronic measuring and GPS laser technology to create a 3-D map of the crash site.

In some car crashes, Nevada accident lawyers see more complex cases where there are no visible skid marks because vehicles have anti-locking technology designed to slow down the vehicle without locking up the wheels, even when a driver slams on the brakes. This usually suggests that the cars collided with little warning when one or both cars crossed the center line in the road.

In newer model vehicles, seat belts are equipped with devices known as pre-tensioners that detect rapid deceleration typical in a crash. When they activate, slack in the seat belt coils back up, restraining the occupant’s body in the proper position for protection from airbags when they deploy on impact. Such factors used to reconstruct a car crash, helps investigators determine the cause of the accident. Insurance companies and car accident lawyers rely on this information to determine fault for compensable injuries.

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