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Little Help with Accident Scene Investigation

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  • Little Help with Accident Scene Investigation

    I put this in both "The Squad Room" and "Pennsylvania" forums, because I'd like to get as much feedback as possible, from everyone, and locals.
    I've been on the job for about 3 years now, and would like to get some information on investigating a traffic accident, considering I haven't done one yet. I have asked around within the two departments that I work at. I did receive good information, but I wish I could watch a partner or a felllow officer conduct an accident investigation, that way I don't look incompetent when performing my first accident scene investigation. By the way, we only have usually 1 or 2 guys per shift, so its hard to request for back-up, especially for an accident.
    From what I've been told, and from what I know, when arriving to an accident scene. (I also know every accident scene is going to be different):
    1. Upon approaching, observe scene to determine second action (which vehicle or victim to approach first, etc).
    2. Attend to victim(s), by severity of injuries. Note any injuries after assisting them.
    3. Observe vehicle(s) involved in accident for damage and point(s) of impact. Note damages, deployment of airbags, whether the seat belts were utilized.
    4. Gather all involved vehicle information (registration, insurance, operator information).
    5. Try to determine how the accident occurred by either asking the operators, or walking around and looking at the entire scene (damaged guard rails, signs, property, mailboxes, trees, etc).
    6. Contact towing services, if needed.
    7. Complete multiple page accident report, by either paper or internet.
    Like I said, I know all accidents are different, and im sure I did forget some critical information, so this is just mainly my summary/basic version of a traffic scene investigation.
    I would greatly appreciate any advice or input.

  • #2
    Look for skid marks (Yaw Marks), check where the debris from the MVA is, get all of the pertient info for each driver ASAP, DL, REG, INSURANCE, and a rough sketch of what happened. Don't forget to get info from all persons on location. Also, look at other MVA reports done in your PD's. You can always follow up at the hospital for questioning, but get your vital documents as soon as possible.

    Also, how on Earth have you gone 3 years without doing a simple MVA?
    " The Beatings will continue until Morale Improves "

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    • #3
      I'm full time at a Sheriff's Department (we are not allowed to investigate at traffic accident, but we are allowed to perform traffic stops), and part time at a Police Department (2-4 nights a week). Just haven't worked a shift where I've been called to a crash scene yet. I appreciate the advice though.

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      • #4
        My recommendation if at all possible is to take a basic crash investigation course. The course should teach you how to work a wreck, mark and measure scene evidence and construct diagrams. It is very easy to miss important evidence at a crash event if you do not know what to look for or how to proceed.

        Just one more tidbit eyewitness, driver/operator statements can be very unreliable so don't use those as the main determining factor of the crash cause.

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        • #5
          Sounds like you are on the right track.

          My simpliest advice, when you get there, check for injuries first, call EMS is needed. I also try to get the vehicles moved as quickly as possible as I can get traffic moving (use spray paint or chalk to note vehicle locations, also take photos).

          After that, just grab a copy of your state accident form and fill in the blanks at the scene, so you aren't missing anything. 6 years and probably over 100 wrecks in and I still do this, even though I just have to turn around and transfer the information to our computer software, it is still good to do to make sure I don't miss anything.

          The vast majority of wrecks are very simple, all you need to do is fill in the blanks. If no one is injured, I don't really take measurements any more unless it is obvious someone laid down a lot of skid.

          I sometimes put my opinion about what caused the crash in my report, sometimes I don't, just depends on what information I have available and what the drivers/witnesses tell me. I tend to take what they say with a grain of salt, but sometimes you get a pretty honest and clear picture from them

          If you feel the wreck is out of your league (been to crash investigation school and I still refuse to take a fatality), call a trooper or traffic investigator to assist you. I don't know about Penn, but out here they are often happy to help. Especially if you are still willing to take the report and just need some advice
          Last edited by Dingo990; 04-12-2011, 11:29 PM.

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          • #6
            There is an on line Traffic Collision Investigation level 1 course offered on line from Northwestern University. I cost $970 but it would answer all your questions and increase your confidence. Check with your departments training officer and see if you can take the course. It is self paced so there is no pressure.

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            • #7
              My take: since 95% of the time I don't summons for violations in minor crashes, I don't put forth much time and/or effort in "investigating" them. I simply "fill in the blanks" for the necessary paperwork. A few photos are also snapped. The parties involved can argue amongst themselves in civil court, and with their insurance companies, about who did what.

              If it's serious (serious bodily injury, death, or chance of death within 30 days), a crash reconstructionist is requested, and the scene is secured until they arrive and do their fancy measuring for the insurance company and prosecution. I'd do my normal report and photos, plus measurements, plus obtaining statements from the involved parties and any witnesses. I'm not a reconstruction expert and I have no desire to pretend to be one. I allow the DA's office to review the case and let hem issue court summonses as they see fit.
              Last edited by Resq14; 04-13-2011, 04:35 AM.
              All Gave Some - Some Gave All

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              • #8
                Try not to over-think it. Handling an collision investigation is much like handling any other police investigation. You still apply your basic fundamentals throughout.

                The first thing you need to do in any investigation, collision or not, is to arrive safely and render the scene safe. Make sure the victims are safe.

                A couple of the steps you included could be saved by taking pictures. Take as many pictures as you can of the scene and the collision so you don't have to rely on your chick scratch notes or your memory.

                Have parties fill out witness statements.... why take notes off what they say when they can do the work for you? Having them fill out witness statements on scene will free you up so you can handle another part of the on-scene investigation.

                Once I obtain all info from driver's (lic, reg, ins) then i call it over the air and my dispatch prints out a copy of all the information you will need to do your accident report. I obtain this copy when I return to the station. If your dispatch can do the same I suggest it so you don't have to copy everything down roadside.

                Last thing.... the free flow of traffic should NOT be prioritized before your investigation. Don't get flustered if an intersection is blocked and everyone is honking their horn. Open traffic only when you feel it's ready to be open.
                Last edited by mp1161; 04-13-2011, 09:36 AM.

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                • #9
                  Unless its a fatal or serious injury accident its simple. We dont decied whos at fault we give contributing factors to the accident. Sometimes I will use fail to yeild if no witness and tey both say they had the green. let thier insurance companies fight it out. Dont get stressed out, I do this first check for injuries and if needed start EMS around here its possible that fire will beat us to an accident. once they are on scene let them deal with that part. befor ethey are transported just note which victim is in which ambulance and where they are going. (dispatch usually has that if the leave on you). Clear the road if possible call for tow if needed. Get traffic flowing, if you cant make sure someone shuts the road down and diverts traffic. Get the drivers license reg and insurance as well as any passenger names and phone #'s. I just get a quick story from both drivers and any witness. No need for statements around here. I write down DL#'s and plate #'s so I can bring up info later if I need it. I fill in the blanks and I put what each driver said even if they both say they had a green light. I list witness names and phone #'s. I dont ever give my opinion on what caused it just the contributing factors I can find. If its a fatal or serious injuries we have reconstruction done.

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                  • #10
                    I believe I have an Accident Investigation CD somewhere around here. If I find it I will PM you for your address and mail it to you. Might be at home in MS though. If I do its yours for free. It is a basic accident investigation course.
                    "I do not fear the man who yells, I fear the man who doesn't"

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                    • #11
                      I think you're over thinking it just a bit. If its a minor crash, PDO or minor PI, get the cars out of traffic and obtain vehicle / operator / passenger information (including where they were seated) then try to get a statement from the involved parties..... really that's it.

                      If the crash is serious in nature such as a fatality or serious (life threatening) injury. Leave everything alone and call for a reconstructionist. If your dept. doesn't do recon you can usually call the state patrol.

                      Its a bad idea to get too technical on a crash investigation unless you have the appropriate training. You can take some on line crash investigation classes through IPTM or Northwestern University (NUCPS), but unless you are interested in becoming an investigator / reconstructionist, the classes aren't necessary to just handle a traffic crash.

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