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How a forensic engineer investigates a motor vehicle accident

On Behalf of | Mar 1, 2023 | personal injury

Witnesses often provide the most useful information about the cause of a motor vehicle accident. Victims may not observe or remember key events; emergency responders such as medical technicians, police officers, and fire department personnel usually arrive on the scene after the colliding vehicles have come to rest and injured persons have been removed from the scene.

Police departments and lawyers representing injured victims often resort to another important resource: an accident reconstruction specialist.

The basics of the investigation and reconstruction process

The investigator’s first task is to make a careful inventory of the accident site. The investigator records the location of each vehicle that was involved in the crash. Next, the investigator makes a careful record of debris from the accident and any parts that may have fallen off a vehicle. External evidence, such as skid marks, damaged foliage and highway traffic signs, are also noted. Most investigators today used digital photography and video recordings to make a visual record of the scene. Witnesses are also interviewed. After the physical evidence from the crash site has been collected, the investigator returns to the laboratory for more research.

In the lab

Most forensic engineers maintain extensive libraries of data showing how various frame designs respond to the physical impact of a collision. Knowing the make and model of the cars involved in the crash enables the investigator to extract information about each vehicle’s speed and direction.

After the crash information has been collected, a forensic engineer will then use the information and state-of-the-art computer simulation programs to reconstruct a visual simulation of the accident. These programs can also be used to replicate the movement of the victims’ bodies as the collision progressed.

Using the reconstruction

Most forensic engineers do not consciously slant their conclusions to benefit a particular party. They realize that they may damage their credibility if they take this route. Instead, a reliable engineer will form an independent judgment about how and why the accident occurred. This conclusion will then be provided to the client (or the police department, if that agency paid for the evaluation) and the client’s attorney. In most personal injury lawsuits, the computer simulation will be shown to the jury so that each member may form an independent and evidence-based conclusion about the accident.