Many newspaper reports on traffic accidents in New Jersey describe the chronology of the accident in great detail, but many such reports end with the words, “The cause of the accident is under investigation.” What is being investigated? Who is doing the investigation? Why is the investigation still underway? The answers to these questions depend upon the number of vehicles involved, where the accident happened, how many people were injured or killed and which police department has jurisdiction.

Most police departments in New Jersey have departments that specialize in investigating accidents and determining their cause. A number of private engineering firms are also trained in accident investigation, and they provide services to police departments that do not have an independent accident investigation unit and to attorneys who may be representing parties seeking damages. All these entities refer to what they do as “accident reconstruction.” Reconstructing a motor vehicle accident involves a careful study of the scene, preservation of evidence, evaluation of weather conditions and application of scientific principles.

The major function of accident reconstruction is to determine the physical forces that led to the collision. Was one vehicle speeding? Did a driver fail to brake or slow down? This determination is made by recording the post-accident scene in videos and photographs. Accident investigators also obtain critical information from vehicle event data recorders. Many firms use 3-D scanners to create a virtual model of the vehicles. The measurement of skid marks coupled with knowing the weight and direction of a vehicle can determine the vehicle’s speed and the physical force it exerted when hitting another vehicle. Accident reconstruction is the application of settled principles of physics and chemistry to the known facts of the accident. In short, accident reconstruction specialists work backwards from the post-accident position of the vehicles, drivers and passengers to make what is often a virtual video of the accident as it happens.

Anyone who has been injured or lost a loved one in an automobile accident may wish to consider recovering damages from the parties may be at fault. An experienced motor vehicle accident attorney can provide valuable assistance in analyzing the facts of the accident and can assist in retaining an accident reconstruction specialist to determine the cause of the accident.