There was a time when a qualification was based on ‘paper’. If someone was an engineer, a doctor, a professor or held any degree, they were regarded with nothing short of respect and trust.
In the field of Crash Scene Reconstruction, things are somewhat different. From the beginning of (crash reconstruction) time, there was an unspoken (and sometimes spoken) tension between experience and qualification.
The first ‘accident reconstructionist’ in the industry came not from the halls of universities and research facilities but rather from the law enforcement fraternity. Qualified engineers did not initially see an opportunity and start entering the field of crash analysis and reconstruction: No, Police officers saw a need, started studying and doing their own research and introduced the concept to the courts, initially.
As time went by, engineers and other scholars started to enter the fray and then an age-old ‘dispute’ started over who should control or govern the industry. Engineers stated to argue that non-engineers could not possibly have all the knowledge and understanding of the complex physics involved while those already in the industry retorted by arguing that their lack of at-scene experience puts engineers at a disadvantage since it was never ‘all about numbers’ in any event.
So, When I entered the field in South Africa, back in 2000, the thought of a private person attending to a crash scene, conducting a (forensic) investigation, gathering evidence, forming an opinion and testifying in court was not only abnormal and previously unheard of in Africa, but I was even threatened with arrest, ‘chased’ off scenes and persecuted by officials in many cases.
Fast forward to 2013 and here I am, an established authority in the field of forensic road traffic crash reconstruction, well-published, accepted in all relevant circles, leading the industry in almost every aspect.
But enough about me. I know the industry, I work in it daily, I have been a specialist police reservist officer, I have testified in may courts and I have appeared in many television news articles.
What do you need to know when you decide (or are forced to) start using a forensic road traffic crash reconstructionist? Who should you use? What should you Pay? Where should you look? All relevant questions, I will try to answer them all in this article.
By the time you try to find a crash reconstructionist, you will typically already be desperate. You will probably have suffered a loss already, you might face a civil claim or criminal charges and typically after sometime and normally close to trial date, you will hear those dreaded words from your legal team: “I think we need to get hold of an accident expert to help us in this case.”
Now your problems start: You cannot waste time looking for 20 quotes. There are less than 10 good experts in all of Africa. They are all very busy and in great demand. They hold the power. They typically charge a lot – especially if they smell blood in the water. They know you are desperate. They know your trial is coming up soon. They know you have exhausted all other options and they are your ’last great hope’. You are about to feel the pinch. This is going to cost you.
But it is not all gloom and doom. If you take your time (and you may not have a lot), you will research this industry. You should be able to locate at least three people fairly easily. Whether they are immediately available is normally your greatest concern. What do the best experts sound like (on the phone) and how do you compare CV’s and track record when everyone claims they are the best and their background and training is so different? Some are engineers, others ex-traffic officers and other merely have a lot of experience and a good track record. What to do, what to do….
A good place to start is normally to ask your possible reconstructionist to send you their CV, a proper quotation, an explanation of the intended work with clarification of every step and a time-line. Some cases can take over a year to resolve, others days. This is very important.
Ask how many cases they have testified in and in how many they have been proven ‘wrong’. This is vital.
If they send you their CV, see whether it rests more on qualification and history or more on experience and achievement. Someone who ‘has testified in many courts’ might have done so for free, just to get a ‘track record’. But they may have been proven wrong in many.
Visit their website
This is normally a rapid indication of their technical skill, how technologically connected they are, it will reveal their public profile, give you an indication of their professionalism, etc.
Then Google their name and their company name. See what comes up. Have they been will represented in the market, or are there obscure references to their name?
Ask them to send you a judgement from an actual case, where their expertise is addressed or referred to.
The following is an example of an extract from a judgement I was mentioned in:
“Now I have heard many, many, many a hundred, a thousand accidents in this court in the past fifteen years. So, although I would never give myself out as an expert, I have heard how many accidents happened and why or the way this is described, makes absolutely a sense.
“Now the evidence of Mr Bezuidenhout, I must admit is probably the best I have heard in many years. I have heard many experts testifying in this court, some good, some bad. I have heard seven people, so-called experts, come and testify as to the reconstruction of accidents afterwards.
“He clearly is head and shoulders above all other experts I have seen in court. Although he did not testify as an expert today, the evidence that he gave is so clear and precise that the court cannot find any mistake whatsoever with that. While he gave his evidence, he did not want to venture into any assumptions or conclusions that he had drawn in cross-examination, he was pressed to make them and only after the court said if that is the case, you can go ahead and make them, he made those conclusions and they, unfortunately make 100% sense.
The other thing you ant to look into is the technology used by your reconstructionist. Ask and request examples or references of how that technology is applied.
The days of measuring scenes with measuring wheels are over. In this day and age all you need is one reference measurement. By using automated, stabilised, GPS-linked multi-rotar drones, capable of taking high resolution aerial photographs from as much as one km high, crash scenes can be examined, analysed, modelled, measured and reconstructed in great three-dimensional detail.
While very costly, these technologies eliminate human error in measurement, help reveal evidence that cannot be seen from ground-level and assists with the identification and analysis of vehicle movement dynamics to a far greater level of accuracy.
Old-school reconstructionist typically compile (perhaps) a five-page report, outlining only what they were given, what they did, what they analysed and their findings. In the modern world of CSI-style approaches, courts are starting to expect and demand more. Dubbed the ‘CSI-effect’ juries and magistrates are starting to except technology to be used.
While the old ‘pen and paper’ method worked in old-school thinking, three-dimensional analysis software capable of highly detailed illustration, virtual space analysis, advanced mathematical modelling, inverse-kinematic animation and complex vehicle dynamics are used world-wide. Having visited Canada to receive first-hand training from the CEO and President of aras360, I use their software for all my analysis. In the past, I used as many as three or more different software platforms to draw, model and analyse crash dynamics. With ARAS360, it is all possible in one place now. And it is highly accurate, time-tested and proven in courts all over the world.
In order for you to make optimum use of a reconstructionist, you need to be sure that you can supply them with evidence that adds value in an analytical sense. Merely ‘taking pictures of the accident’ is no longer enough. With modem technologies like ARAS360 and the use of drones, comes a greater need for highly detailed at-scene investigation with a view towards establishing facts that might be irrelevant to the untrained camera operator. To this effect, it is important to know what steps your reconstructionist will take when analysing a collision, what evidence they will need and what evidence still needs to be gathered.
The reconstructionist must visit the scene of the collision. Even experienced specialist police officers and reconstructionist fall trap to forming opinions on collisions without ever visiting the scene. This will come back to haunt them in court cases. You must get your reconstructionist involved almost immediately after a collision. In order to be effective, they need to visit the scene, examine vehicles and possibly talk to (interview) drivers, victims and witnesses.
The amount of photography it takes to properly document a crash scene can become very arduous. At IBF Investigations, we use a 124-point protocol that needs to be followed at every crash scene. Using this protocol, as many as 1000 photographs often need to be taken. This includes the scene, orientation photographs, vehicle examination photography, vehicle interior, exterior, damages, controls and levers, contract surfaces, tyres, wheels, mirror and glass and even the brake system. This is why we prefer to provide training and digital guidelines to our clients.
You will typically be on the scene of your collision long before any reconstructionist can be there. If you know what evidence to gather, what photographs to take, what information to get from officials and what your rights, limitations and skills are, you could gather all the evidence yourself.
In the next part we will cover the equipment you will need to be able to conduct a complete forensic at-scene crash investigation, yourself.