Many news reports of automobile accidents end with the cryptic phrase, “The accident remains under investigation.” Many people undoubted read that sentence without knowing anything about what it means. How is an accident investigated? Who does the investigation? A news report on a tragic fatal accident in Biloxi helps us understand how an accident investigation is conducted.
A sedan driven by a woman in her 50s was heading west on Highway 90 when she signaled for a left turn. Another vehicle eastbound on Highway 90 struck the turning vehicle on the passenger side. The turning vehicle rolled over several times before it struck a light pole. Bother driver and her 7-year-old grandson were killed. The driver of the other car was hospitalized after the crash, but no information on that person’s medical condition has been released.
News reports of the accident and the two deaths stated that the Biloxi police accident investigation unit was conducting an extended investigation of the accident to determine why the turning vehicle rolled over and how the two occupants were killed.
Virtually all such investigations begin with a careful study of the accident scene. Specially trained officers photograph the scene, including the spots where the principal vehicles ended up and also where parts of the vehicles may have been thrown by the impact. Officers also measure the length of any skid marks and attempt to verify the locations of the vehicles before the beginning of the chain of events that led to the collision.
The officers then take their data and, using common rules of physics, attempt to reconstruct the paths taken by each vehicle before and after the impact. Most police departments possess computer programs that aid them in reconstructing the accident. Various firms publish data on the composition of automotive frames and other vehicle components, and the police use this data to affirm their initial calculations about the paths of the vehicles during the sequence of events that comprised the accident.
What happens next?
When the investigation team is finished with its work, it publishes a report that in effect “reconstructs” the accident. These reports can be used in court testimony to resolve any pending criminal charges. Insurance companies and accident attorneys also use the report to determine whether any party was at fault for the accident. An experienced accident lawyer will often call one or more members of the investigation team or retain a private accident reconstruction firm to provide testimony about liability.