A news report of a recent accident involving pedestrians who were struck by a motor vehicle provides only a few details about how the accident occurred. Three pedestrians, all teenaged males, were struck by a single vehicle in Pearl River County, and two of the boys died from their injuries. The report devoted a single line to the cause of the accident: “The highway patrol said the accident remains under investigation.” Many reports of traffic accidents end with the same statement, but this report added an important detail: “The Mississippi Highway Patrol CRASH Reconstruction Team . . . [is] investigating the crash.” Post-accident investigations play a vital role in understanding how and why accidents happen, who may have been at fault, and whether any safety measures could have prevented the accident.
The Mississippi CRASH Team (Collision Reconstruction Analysis on State Highways) plays an important role in helping the State Department of Public Safety in providing vital information about the causes of virtually all types of accidents, including automobile collisions. The team is comprised of police officers who are trained to use modern information gathering techniques to work out the sequence of events that led to the accident. Among the tools used by the CRASH team are forensic mapping of collisions, time-distance analysis, momentum analysis, analyzing data from event data downloads, vehicle autopsy, physical evidence analysis, physical evidence analysis, and occupant kinematics/Human Factors.
The investigative process
Most accident investigations begin with a thorough inspection of the scene. The CRASH team photographs the site and gathers physical evidence such as parts of the vehicles, and occasionally the vehicles themselves. The investigators measure the length of skid marks and the extent of any physical damage to the vehicles. These observations are carefully entered into a data base that can be used by various computer programs to reconstruct the accident. In many cases, this information can be used to render a digital rendering of the accident. These renderings are often used in court rooms to provide a visual image for the jury.
Accident reconstructions are also used by private attorneys in personal injury cases to provide vivid images of the case for the jury.