Step 2: Gather Information
The main purpose of gathering information is to establish facts that describe the sequence of events that occurred before, during and after the crash. Clear and complete information enables investigators to re-create events with accuracy, and understand what happened. Crash scenes can be chaotic so it is important to be prepared and know what information to collect, and how to collect it.
To ensure your employees know what to do if they are involved in a crash, download If You're Involved in a Crash Checklist. Keep a copy in all work vehicles.
Download the MVI Investigation Equipment Checklist for a list of the supplies and tools for collecting and processing crash scene information.
There are several methods used to gather information about an incident:
- Examine the site
- Take photographs
- Make sketches
- Interview people
- Let modern technology help
Examine the site
The first thing to do is to survey the scene to identify hazards that have not yet been neutralized - and address or avoid them! Then, identify the pieces of information you need to gather.
Look closely for clues. What looks unusual or out of place? Debris may be scattered over a large area. What do tire tracks tell you? Look inside the vehicle(s). Is it a well-organized workplace or cluttered with items that obstructed the driver? Is there a smartphone with a half-finished text? An open make-up kit? If you think it can help piece the events together, take a photo or make notes.
Looking for Clues
Each crash can have an array of possible underlying causes. As you examine the scene for information, use the framework below to help ask the right questions.
- Physical factors – Did mechanical (e.g., unfit vehicle, unsecured load, worn tires), environmental (e.g., weather, road), material (defective traffic control device) or other factors contribute to the crash?
- Human factors – Did a person (e.g., driver, passenger, pedestrian, supervisor) do, do incorrectly or incompletely or fail to do something that contributed? Were physical or mental conditions (e.g., fatigue, state of mind, skill level) factors?
- Organizational factors – Do you see or hear things that cause you to wonder if policies or procedures were in place, or that insufficient training, inadequate supervision or improper motivations are factors?
Photographs are the best way to document information. Below is a list of photos to gather at a crash scene.
- positions of all vehicles involved
- inside and outside damage to vehicles involved
- locations of crash-related debris
- injuries to any person (get consent of that person before taking photos)
- position of injured persons (if thrown from the vehicle)
- eyewitness viewpoints - helps describe what each witness could, and could not, see
- environmental conditions and physical factors (e.g., a setting sun that impaired visibility, an icy patch of road, an improperly secured load, a defective brake part, etc.)
Suggestions for taking crash scene photos
These days, nearly everybody has a camera on his or her phone. Check with observers to see if they have crash photos they are willing to share.
- Capture the macro-view. Stand on a hill or other elevated vantage point and take a bird's eye view.
- Take photos at various distances. Walk along the street(s) travelled by vehicles involved. Snap shots at 100 m, 50 m and 25 m from the crash. Along the way, you might find information - a pothole, a skid mark or coffee cup - that helps explain events leading up to the crash.
- To demonstrate what drivers saw, take photos from the eye level of drivers. This varies significantly among vehicles. For a compact sedan, it's about 1.0 metres above the pavement; for a lifted four-wheel drive, it could be 1.6 to 2.2 metres.
- Take notes that identify the position of each shot (e.g., #17 - from Elm Street sidewalk 25 metres north of crash site).
- Include a common reference point or object to show the proximity of key objects.
- Be respectful. Be aware that people who witnessed or were involved in the crash might be distressed. Others at the scene have important jobs to do especially emergency responders.
Sketches of the crash scene are valuable tools because they convey information that photos usually can't. Start with not-to-scale sketches drawn at the site. Use the measuring tape in your kit to measure distances, or estimate using your paces. Later, use your measurements to build a scale diagram.
Click here to see examples of site sketches.
Online tools and videos are available to help create sketches. Search using keywords accident sketch.
Interviews are essential. Sometimes, they are the only way to find out what happened and why. Speak with the people involved in the crash and with those who observed it. Others may have information about events or circumstances before and after the crash - the supervisor who provided direction, someone the driver spoke with at the last delivery, a motorist or pedestrian who saw this vehicle approach the intersection. Investigations may lead you to seek information outside the workplace. Maybe something that happened this morning at home, at last night's hockey game or some other non-work event has influenced a driver's decisions and actions.
As you speak with people, seek to determine:
- When the incident occurred
- Where they were when it occurred; this will help you understand what they could, and could not see from their vantage point
- What they saw and heard; their account of what happened and the sequence of events.
Interviewing people is somewhat of an art. Here are a few ideas for eliciting helpful accounts.
- Interview observers as soon as possible. At the crash scene is usually best as long as they are not injured or visibly upset. You can also follow-up and clarify during a later interview.
- Conduct interviews individually and privately, without interference from others.
- Put interviewees at ease. Rather than demanding they "provide their statement for the investigation", ask them to simply describe what happened.
- Ask open-ended questions. Avoid questions that lead the interviewee to guess, or to agree with a suggested occurrence.
- Take the interviewee back through the events by asking questions like, "What happened next?" or "Was that before or after ____?"
- Consider asking, "Why do you think that happened?", or "What could have been done to avoid this crash?" Such questions can bring out key information, but the associated speculation may or may not be correct.
- Avoid interruptions. If you have questions, wait until the interviewee finishes, then ask.
- During the interview, periodically summarize and repeat it back to the interviewee to make sure you have it right.
- Offer to share your notes or audio recordings with each interviewee to check that you have correctly captured their words.
- Give the interviewee your contact information. Ask them to call if they think of anything else.
- Thank them for their help.
Let modern technology help
Nearly all new cars sold in Canada today are equipped with Event Data Recorders (EDR). Originally designed to help ensure air bags deploy in the event of a crash, today's EDRs track a range of specific data including vehicle speed, steering and braking actions, acceleration and seatbelt use to name a few.
Different EDRs have different features. Some record data in a continuous loop of a set duration. Others are activated by a crash or crash-like event. Either way, the information they collect can establish key facts and valid evidence. Vehicle owners can work with their local dealership to retrieve data. In BC, police can gain access to data on an EDR without a warrant.
Dash-cams are increasingly common. Check vehicles involved in the crash. Perhaps another motorist at or near the crash scene captured footage of the events. Plus, with the increasing number and variety of traffic cams, surveillance cameras and other closed-circuit TV systems, there may be other sources to help you verify crucial facts. Ask around.