Many media accounts of automobile and truck accidents end (or occasionally begin) with the statement that the accident is “still under investigation.” This exact phrase was used recently in the report on a truck-car accident near Oberlin. A Pontiac and a Mack truck sideswiped each other on U.S. 20, and the newspaper article reporting on the accident could not offer much information about the causes of the accident because the “cause of Monday’s two-vehicle accident . . . is still under investigation.” What, exactly, does this phrase mean?
Usually, the phrase means that accident reconstruction experts are trying to establish the exact sequence of events that led to the collision. In this case, police were able to determine that a Pontiac G6 was traveling west on U.S. Highway 20 when it sideswiped the left front of a 2013 Mack truck. The accident didn’t occupy more than a few seconds, but the two occupants of the Pontiac suffered serious injuries. The driver’s injuries were serious enough to require a helicopter flight to a nearby hospital. The two occupants of the Mack truck suffered only minor injuries.
Many police departments have specially trained accident reconstruction teams, and lawyers in private practice use private firms employing such specialists to assist them in preparing an injury case for settlement or trial.
The first steps by accident investigators involve a careful documentation of the scene. The final resting place of each vehicle is photographed, and indicia such as skid marks and tire tracks are carefully measured. The overall scene is photographed, and a video of the scene is also made to assist investigators in preserving the important aspects of the crash.
Once the scene has been documented, investigators begin to use the fundamental laws of physics and chemistry to explain the actions of each vehicle in the collision. Investigators also use extensive textual materials that reveal a particular vehicle’s resistance (or lack thereof) to a certain type of impact.
Accident investigation is an important step that auto designers and manufacturers use to produce safer vehicles. Experienced accident attorneys also use trained accident reconstruction experts to help them explain to juries how an accident happened.