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Understanding accident reconstruction

Many news reports of vehicle accidents in Ohio end with the statement that the collision is being further investigated. What, exactly, does this mean? The vehicles have come to rest, police have checked the physical condition of the drivers and any passengers and summoned any emergency medical care that may be needed. What else remains to be learned?

The answer should not be surprising. The remaining question is the most important one: how did the accident happen? Law enforcement agencies and private engineering firms have developed many sophisticated techniques for understanding the sequence of events that lead to automobile and truck accidents. Accident reconstruction, as the science is called, depends upon careful research at the accident scene, the recording of important data and the application of basic science.

An accident investigation usually begins with noting the position of the vehicles at various points in time. This information can be obtained from photographing the scene, measuring skid marks, interviewing witnesses and examining the amount of damage suffered by each vehicle. The investigators then use basic science to calculate the vehicles' paths and points of contact that led to and resulted from the collision. For example, the investigators will have industry publications that provide the weight of each vehicle and the resistance of each vehicle to a given impact. From this information and on-scene observations, the investigators can determine the speed of the vehicles and the likely point where the drivers became aware of the impending collision. Investigators will also take into account information provided by officers on the scene, such as the suspected role of any drugs or alcohol or hazards such as heavy rain or freezing rain or snow.

The reconstruction process can take several weeks for a multi-vehicle accident or a complicated crash scene. Accident reconstruction engineers are often called as witnesses in any court trial arising from the accident.

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