As any Californian who has survived a serious automobile collision can testify, accidents happen in a few seconds. A car accident can comprise many separate events, and under the stress of the moment, the observations and recollections of eye witnesses may not be reliable in determining the cause of the collision. In order to provide answers to the questions how did an accident happen, the engineering profession has developed many techniques for estimating vehicle speeds, angles of impact and other crash data.
The science of accident reconstruction is based upon the careful and extensive collection of data at the accident scene, the laws of physics that govern moving objects and mathematical formulae that can, in effect, run time backwards to the first link in the chain of events. The reconstruction of a car crash begins with a visit to the scene. A reconstruction specialist will take extensive photographs and videos of the location of the vehicles, parts of the cars and the bodies of victims.
Injuries suffered by survivors can also help in understanding the sequence of events. The crash scene is also measured very carefully to record the length of skid marks, the distances vehicles traveled after the initial impact and the location of vehicle parts. An accident investigation specialist also has access to information about how various metals and car models respond to impacts. The extent to which a fender has been crushed can reveal significant information about how fast the vehicle was traveling.
Once this information has been gathered, it is used to run a number of different computer programs that can simulate the accident. Different programs are used for different kinds of accidents. One program may be used to analyze an accident involving a big rig, while another program may be helpful in an accident involving a motorcycle. Some programs allow the investigator to generate a virtual reconstruction of the accident.
Auto accident reconstructions can be used by law enforcement agencies to determine whether any laws were broken and in civil litigation to resolve questions of liability. For those that have been injured in a car accident, it might be necessary to retain an accident reconstruction specialist to assist in recovering damages arising the accident caused by a possible negligent driver.
Source: CRC Press, "Automotive Accident Reconstruction: Practices and Principles," (2013), Donald E. Struble, accessed on July 23, 2016