Brakes squeal. Glass shatters. In a few seconds, two cars have been destroyed. Insurers, police, and the justice system want to know what really happened. What problem-solving strategies can they use to reconstruct the accident?
Witnesses, Physics, and Algebra
Sometimes, the drivers and passengers involved in a crash and any other witnesses can help reconstruct the events leading to the accident. However, memories get foggy. In the stress after a car accident, people may misremember important details. They might not have noticed everything that contributed to the accident. Police officers also will examine the scene, looking at the damage to the cars, the way debris has scattered, and any skid marks on the road. All of these observations can help them figure out what went wrong.
After the police collect evidence from the scene, they put the data into a computer program. The computer applies physics equations to determine how fast the cars were traveling and how they collided with each other. Police can compare the computer results with eyewitness accounts to get a realistic and more complete picture of the accident. Some police forces have also started using laser scanners to assess the scene. These scanners are capable of taking accurate measurements very quickly and using them to create a 3D simulation of the scene.
See for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hw5NuF9dagg
Watch the following videos to learn more about the process of accident reconstruction.