Drones are becoming a go-to technology for accident reconstruction, used by insurance companies, law enforcement, and lawyers trying to assess blame after a crash.
One of the most important benefits of using a drone for accident reconstruction is that it significantly reduces the amount of time needed to assemble a sufficient amount of data to map out the scene for an investigation.
In earlier approaches for mapping accident scenes, investigators used pencils and tape measures, manually identifying skid marks and relevant parts of the scene to reconstruct the cause of an accident by marking Xs and Os on graph paper. This kind of accident reconstruction could take anywhere from six to eight hours, determining long delays for the roadway on which the accident took place.
More newly, laser scanners have been used to help speed up this manual approach. But even with this improvement, accident mapping can still take two to three hours to complete.
Drones offer a speedier, more accurate solution. With a drone, investigators can map an accident scene in just five to eight minutes, according to research done at Purdue University.
And the time preserved isn’t just an improvement to the efficiency of the investigation—it can literally help save lives.
HOW DRONES HELP RECONSTRUCT ACCIDENT
Drones help reconstruct accident scenes by collecting visual data that can then be processed using mapping software into 3D models or orthomosaic maps of the scene.
Photo credit: Pix4D
Some drones used for accident reconstruction are DJI’s Inspire 2 paired with the ZenMuse X7 and the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0, but there are many different kinds of mapping drones out there that are also being used.
Accuracy is especially essential when collecting data to create these maps for the purposes of accident reconstruction since a small error in the data could make it appear that a different scenario caused the accident, and lay blame for the crash on the incorrect person.
Researchers at Purdue University have partnered with the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office, located in Indiana, to analyze the use of drones for reconstructing accidents. In 2018 alone, the Sheriff’s Office used drones for accident reconstruction a total of 20 different times.
Watch this video for a recap of their examination and findings:
HOW USING DRONES HELPS KEEP PEOPLE SAFER
When first responders arrive at the scene of a car crash they have four priorities:
1. Make sure the people involved are safe:
Identifying injuries and getting medical care for those who need it.
2. Make sure the scene around is safe:
Ensuring that nothing is in danger of collapsing or presenting a danger to those in that area.
3. Achieve and collect the data
The accident area is not only a place where people need help, but it’s also a crime scene that needs to be investigated in order to determine why the accident happened.
4. Working fast to unblock the road
The longer roads are closed due to an accident, the higher the chances that another accident, or several others, may happen.
Photo credit: John Bullock and Erin Easterling/Purdue University
You may have thought that the third and fourth priorities listed above directly contrast with each other.
On the one hand, first responders are trying to conserve the scene and collect enough evidence to reconstruct the accident, on the other hand, they’re trying to clear the area quickly to avoid additional accidents.
Anything that can be done to speed up the collection of proof can literally save lives since data shows that the more time the road is blocked, the more likely it is that another accident will happen.
In fact, one of the most dangerous times to be on the road is right after a car accident.
It’s in this window of time that the possibility of “secondary accidents”—accidents related to a sudden stop in traffic, like a pileup, or to unexpected debris in the road—go up significantly.
The likelihood of a secondary crash increases by 3% for every minute the primary incident is ongoing. Traffic crashes and struck-by-incidents continue to be one of the leading causes of on-duty injuries and deaths for law enforcement, firefighters, and towing and recovery personnel.
-Andrew Klane, Massachusetts State Troopers
According to data from Purdue University, secondary crashes go up by a factor of 24 right after a crash.
And this is where drones can help.
By significantly speeding up data collection for accident reconstruction, drones are helping investigators clear roads much, much more quickly after an accident, and thereby helping to decrease the potential for secondary crashes.
Another way when reducing time on the road during a crash helps keep people safe is by reducing the amount of exposure first responders themselves have to risk.
The more time a first responder stays on the site of an accident scene, the higher the possibilities that someone might accidentally hit them.
But it’s not just law enforcement that uses drones for accident reconstruction these days.
Insurance companies have started using drones to better evaluate insurance claims made by people involved in car crashes. And law firms that specialize in personal injury law related to crashes have also started using drones in accident investigations, in order to create better and clear visuals for juries as well as creating maps for accident reconstruction purposes.