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Traffic Accident Investigations

  • August 21, 2017
  • by Michael Miranda
  • Articles

Traffic accident investigation and reconstructions can determine liability in the event of a traffic collision. Each day across the United States, people and automobiles react unexpectedly, causing thousands of traffic accidents claiming lives or causing permanent injuries. Of the over 6 million police-reported traffic accidents in 2014, there were 29,989 fatal traffic accidents resulting in 32,675 fatalities in the U.S. Over 2 million people were injured with an economic loss estimated at over $242 billion.

When a traffic accident occurs, it is often not enough to simply say that something went wrong. A traffic accident investigation and traffic accident reconstruction can determine exactly what happened and can help prevent future traffic accidents. Additionally, traffic accident investigators can provide expert testimony in trials to hold the correct party accountable for the damage incurred by the traffic accident.

So why are people referring to a traffic “accident” as a traffic “crash”? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an “accident” is defined as an unexpected and undesirable event, especially one resulting in damage or harm. Basically an unforeseen incident. A “crash” is defined as colliding violently or to strike against something with great force, causing damage or destruction, or cause something such as a car to strike against something in this way.

The difference between an “accident” and a “crash” is an “accident” implied something that was out of your control and unavoidable whereas a “crash” describes a violent collision. A person who causes a traffic accident could have avoided the incident based on their decisions. It may as well mean for some unexplained reason, forces of the universe have met at a certain point in time and place and a result occurred that defies explanation. It means that it has likely never happened before and will probably never occur again in the future.

What Happens In A Traffic Accident Investigation?

The police will investigate a traffic accident with the intention of determining if any criminal action took place in the traffic accident. Some of the things the police look for are speeding, hours-of-service violations, mechanical violations, alcohol use, drug use, etc. For example, if a truck driver is exceeding his hours of service and causes a serious traffic accident because he fell asleep at the wheel, he will likely be criminally charged. If that traffic accident results in a fatality, the charge will likely be vehicular homicide.

Traffic Accident InvestigationsDepending on the nature of the traffic accident, a traffic accident investigation can include visits to the accident site as well as interviews with witnesses and with those involved. A traffic accident investigator will attempt to re-create exactly what happened so they can see exactly what took place and how. Today, this often is done with a variety of computer software programs. A traffic accident investigator may collect testimonies and other evidence, such as measure and document the scene with photographs and notes, that can help you determine exactly what happened in a traffic accident.

During the reconstruction stage, investigators will examine the point of impact, final resting positions, skid marks, scrub marks, and gouge marks. Electronic surveying equipment is typically used during this stage to recreate the traffic accident. The investigators may also inspect each vehicle beyond the damage it has suffered. Checking components like brakes, steering, tires, suspension, and lights may shed light on the cause of the traffic accident.

Traffic Accident Investigator vs. Traffic Accident Reconstructionist

A traffic accident investigator will determine what caused a traffic accident and prevent traffic accidents in the future. If you don't know what really happened in a traffic accident, a good traffic accident investigator can prove that you were not at fault, save you long court hassles and thousands of dollars.

A traffic accident investigator gets answers. Sometimes, just knowing what really happened brings a sense of closure. A traffic accident reconstruction can tell you what really happened in a specific situation. And they can provide evidence that can stand up in court. If you are trying to collect claims for a traffic accident or need to prove that you did not cause a traffic accident through negligence or other fault, only a qualified traffic accident investigator can help you get the evidence you need to solidify your court case.

A traffic accident reconstructionist will identify any safety concerns in vehicles for equipment or structural failures. This can help determine fault or liability and although this prevents further unwarranted injuries or fatalities, these are less common and more difficult to see through to the end. Often in vehicle collisions, the events can be foreseen, although not always observed. They can certainly be explained and liability assigned. This happens daily in every city. In order to explain how an event occurred and why, a reconstructionist must seek causation. In doing so, contributing factors need to be considered in determining causation. These factors may include driver behaviors, environmental factors, and vehicular factors.

Once a roadway hazard is perceived by a driver, the driver reacts to the hazard, and physics takes over. There is one of two outcomes as a result. There is a collision or a collision avoidance. In the case of a collision, there is a multitude of factors that affect the outcome of the impact. The investigator must consider acceleration, braking, speed, friction, and direction, energy, and momentum, all of which has to be carefully analyzed. An effective reconstructionist has the unique ability and fortitude to compute many of these factors based on roadway evidence, scaled measurements, and sometimes recorded data.

Traffic accident reconstructionists are uniquely trained to take the investigation further into causation factors. Investigators consider many factors prior to and after the collision as well as being trained to meticulously explain the details of a collision itself. More events occur in 1/10th of a second than most can imagine.

Once these questions can be answered, the next issue at hand is the scene of the collision. Hopefully, this is where the responding police department has protected the scene for preservation of evidence and, subsequently, conducted a thorough investigation by obtaining all possible witness statements, marked any and all roadway evidence, and successfully measured the scene using a total station or other scene mapping equipment. These and others are all vital requirements for a successful private practice reconstructionist to review the case and identify any factors that may be important to a civil or criminal case. One rule to keep in mind is there is very seldom evidence not tampered with from bystanders or other emergency personnel whose primary job is not to preserve evidence but save lives.

While reviewing the results of the investigation or revisiting a scene, a reconstructionist must look for environmental factors such as was the sun at a position to blind a driver’s view, if there are trees or other objects blocking a view of traffic, was the traffic regulating equipment working properly. We can then begin to look at the roadway makeup and condition at the time of the collision. Another factor to consider is contributing vehicle factors by the units involved. Are there any vehicle recalls and have the repairs been completed by an approved mechanic? Have there been any recent collisions that may have caused prior damage to a vehicle that made this specific wreck worse than it should have been? Was the vehicle's equipment operating properly at the time of the collision?

In addition to these telling details is the vehicle damage. There is a very accurate story told by the damage that often cannot be altered. The principle direction of force (or PDOF) will fold a vehicle's exterior in the direction the collision occurred.

Traffic Accident Investigations: Lamp Filament

Traffic Accident Reconstructionists can also tell which lights were on during a collision, even if they are off once the collision occurs (an effect called “hot shock”).

In the case of law enforcement investigations, often a driver who wishes to avoid the fact that he was driving can be identified by a footprint left on a brake or accelerator pedal. A Traffic accident reconstructionist must look at how law enforcement identified a person as the driver so appropriate liability can be assigned.

Michael (Mike) Miranda is an accredited accident reconstructionist through the Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstruction (ACTAR) and a Colorado licensed Private Investigator. Serving over 28 years as a Trooper with the Colorado State Patrol, Mike retired in 2008 and started a private investigation company offering accident reconstruction and private investigation services.

As a member of the Colorado State Patrol (CSP), Mike was active in the development of and founding member of the CSP Accident Reconstruction Team (A.R.T.). Mike received hundreds of hours of training from various organizations and has taught at numerous police academies throughout Colorado.

Starting in 2008, Mike was a District Attorney Investigator with the 4th Judicial District encompassing one of the largest counties in the state of Colorado. During his time with the DA’s Office, Mike was the Lead Investigator for the Vehicular Homicide/ Vehicular Assault Team and assisted as an advisory witness to the Deputy District Attorneys handling misdemeanor and felony traffic cases.

Mike has continued in the field of accident reconstruction and has testified in three states as an expert. Mike also acts as an advisory witness and teaches numerous classes in accident investigations. In his spare time, Mike enjoys traveling, photography, fishing, and spending time outdoors.

Mj Investigations is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado and can be reached at (719) 694-6343 or [email protected]. Visit our website at Connect with us on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.

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