Serious highway crashes result in significant traffic disruptions as well as thousands of deaths and millions of injuries. A thorough and competent scene investigation is required in order to later reconstruct the event and determine the cause or causes. The goal of these investigations is to identify, describe, and document all the pertinent physical evidence (tire marks, gouges, vehicle locations, etc.) through measurements and photographs. A quality investigation can take hours, involve multiple trained investigators, and require the use of several patrol officers to secure the scene and divert traffic. Closing an intersection or a portion of a roadway creates significant cost and inconvenience to roadway users. Adaptation of our rapidly advancing technology can, not only improve the quality of investigations, but also reduce the time required to occupy the scene.

Drone2The most dramatic development related to on-scene photography is the camera-equipped helicopter drone. This system can provide a broad-view aerial photograph of the entire scene, a closer view of the impact area from which vehicle impact locations, orientations and departure directions can be determined, and a unique top view of the damage to each vehicle. Simple ground markings, along with appropriate computer photogrammetric software, can be used to compensate for distortion, thus allowing for an accurate scaled aerial photo for use as the basis for the reconstruction process.

Drones can be dispatched to scenes immediately upon notification of an accident to assess what is required for the accident investigation process. They can also assist in determining what equipment and personnel are required for medical response and traffic control.

Other, less dramatic technologies in conjunction with drones can also benefit traffic accident investigation and reconstruction. Advanced surveying equipment improves measurement accuracy and decreases the time necessary to collect data at the scene. Corresponding computer programs translate these data into x, y and z coordinates and useful scaled scene diagrams.

Digital photography is inexpensive and provides high quality and resolution. Computer enhancement techniques can further improve photo quality, allowing for a better identification and interpretation of the physical evidence and provide a cross check of field measurements. Public and private security cameras and witness cell phones frequently can provide timely photos and videos of the final rest conditions and possibly some or all of the accident event.

Once the necessary regulations and policies are in place regarding their use, drones hold the greatest promise for improving emergency response, traffic control, and the speed and quality of traffic accident investigation, reconstruction, and causal analysis.

An in-depth discussion of the collection and interpretation of physical evidence is presented in the Evidence chapter of Highway Accidents: Investigation, Reconstruction and Causation available at: Information about the book and author is available at: