Determining what exactly happened during an auto accident in Vermont is crucial.
It’s crucial for the insurance companies as well as for the drivers involved. Certain auto accidents can lead to exposure to criminal liability, so knowing what happened is vital.
It’s relatively easy to figure out what happened for certain types of accidents. In rear-end collisions, it is immediately evident that one car slammed into the back of another car.
Not all accidents are this easy, though. Drivers involved in accidents may not always remember exactly what happened. Or, they may even lie about what happened to shield themselves from liability.
This is why accident investigators must figure out what happened themselves by working backward and reconstructing the accident based upon the evidence that is available to them.
In the article below, we will look at what exactly goes into a car accident investigation.
Understanding Car Accident Investigations
There are three main groups of people who examine car accidents. They are police officers, insurance company agents, and independent accident investigators. Each has its own purpose.
• Police officers investigate car accidents for indications of criminal activity.
• Insurance company agents or adjusters look for who caused the accident and who is responsible for damages.
• Independent accident investigators look for negligence to recover compensatory damages.
Police involvement is especially important in accidents when the police suspect that drug or alcohol use was a factor in the accident. Police involvement is also essential in situations involving commercial drivers who may have exceeded their hours of service limits.
Insurance adjusters are employed by insurance companies to investigate the car accident and determine how much money is owed to the victim.
It is often the insurance adjuster’s job to keep that number as low as possible, which is why many people hire car accident attorneys after their accidents.
Independent investigators are usually hired either by the drivers’ insurance companies or by the drivers themselves.
Independent investigators, unlike police officers, are not looking for evidence of criminal activity. Their job is to analyze the causes of the accident so that insurance companies can determine liability and financial responsibly.
Independent accident investigators can often be off-duty police officers, retired police officers, automotive technologists, or full-time professional accident investigators.
Examining the Scene of the Accident
Police officers are usually the first to arrive at the scene, and their priority is getting medical help for the injured. Once this is done, officers have the chance to take down preliminary information that might include:
• The exact location of the accident
• Date and time of the accident
• Weather and road conditions
• Number of injured people and/or fatalities
• Presence of alcohol, drugs, or suspected drug or alcohol use
Car accident evidence comes primarily from inspections of the site of the accident and inspections of the vehicles involved.
It is important to inspect the accident scene for evidence before it is compromised by weather, time, or human activity. Most car accident investigators take photos of the scene or use chalk to designate an area that needs further inspection.
Types of evidence that a car accident investigator looks for at the accident scene may include:
• Puddles of gasoline, blood, or oil
• Debris such as pieces of glass, fender, shredded or blown tires
• Skid, scrub or gouge marks on the pavement, ground, or stationary objects
• Measurements between the point of impact and vehicle resting place after the collision
• Evidence of alcohol or drug use
• Pieces of private property that were thrown from the car at impact
When examining the vehicles, a car accident investigator looks for:
• Their location after the impact
• Damage to all involved vehicles
• The position of turn signal levers
• Broken or missing seat belts
• Functioning headlights and taillights
There are three types of photographs investigator will take:
• Establishing photographs that show the entire scene, the approaches to the scene, and a fixed object in the background to establish location and scale.
• 360-degree photographs show all four sides of the accident scene looking north, south, east, and west.
• Damage photographs are close-ups of the damage to the vehicles themselves and any items that were struck by the vehicles involved.
Once the investigator has gathered witness statements and performed the site and vehicle inspections, they can reconstruct the accident.
Accident reconstruction is the process of using physics and mathematics to determine the speeds of the vehicles and their relative positions at all times during the accident sequence.
Investigators look at a variety of issues to determine this, including:
• the pre-and post-impact direction of travel
• the length of pre-impact skid marks
• the post-impact distances moved
• friction levels for the various surfaces the vehicles traveled on
• point of impact, impact angles, and the weights of the vehicles
As an example, let’s assume that there is a two-vehicle crash involving one vehicle that was traveling south and another car that was traveling west.
When these vehicles collide, we can assume they will move in a southwesterly direction because that’s a combination of the momentum from both of the cars.
If the accident investigator knows how much each vehicle weighs, how far each vehicle moved south, and how far each vehicle moved west, he or she can then use that information to determine how fast the vehicles were traveling when they collided.
This collision speed can then be combined with the vehicles’ pre-collision speed gathered from skid marks to determine the drivers’ relative pre-braking speeds.