Omnitracs' Road Ahead blog

Video: The Essential Piece of the Crash Reconstruction Puzzle

The advances in video technology have made the use of video in all aspects of our daily lives simple and inexpensive. The cameras are smaller, can be set up without wires, don’t require tapes and have high- definition image quality. A quick search of YouTube will give you many examples of how video is documenting crashes – valuable data in traffic crash reconstruction.

Vehicle-based systems are the most common source of crash videos used in crash reconstruction. These systems can be configured with road-facing, cab-facing, rear-facing or 360-degree views around the vehicle. Most systems have date and time stamps, host vehicle speed, and brake use data. However, the better systems can fully integrate all of the vehicle’s safety features. All video provides pieces of evidence of what occurred, with road and cab-facing video removing doubt as to what took place. The video captured, along with related vehicle data, can quickly give risk and/or safety professionals all the information they need to evaluate events and respond accordingly.

The better video systems provide G-force data, which may be used to determine an impact not shown in the video. Additionally, movement of the host unit (rocking forward, rearward, side-to-side) can also indicate impacts that are not visible. This information can be invaluable in reconstructing the crash.

Video systems document objects in the camera’s field of view. This includes other vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians. In many cases, a qualified crash reconstruction professional can complete a scene inspection and determine the distance traveled by these objects. This distance, combined with the time stamp from the video, can establish the speed of the object prior to the crash. This information is particularly important for approaching vehicles in crashes involving slow moving, turning commercial vehicles.

In addition to video on the vehicle, crash reconstructionists also use surveillance cameras, i.e., traffic cameras or cameras from adjacent businesses. These sources are usually time and date stamped, which allows for calculating the speed of objects depicted in the video. The surveillance cameras from these locations usually have several locations and may reveal different angles of the crash.

Less common, but becoming more available, are smartphone videos. While it is unlikely that someone will be taking a video in the area of a crash, it can happen. Most of these videos lack an imbedded time stamp but, in some cases, it is possible for a crash reconstructionist to utilize the video to determine the speed of the objects depicted.

Video data of crashes is becoming increasingly more common, and personnel responsible for investigating crashes or claims should consider all available sources. A complete investigation may reveal several sources of video data, which can give additional information and shed light on what really happened.

To learn more about video in the courtroom, join Jay Starrett of Scopelitis, as he discusses Video Safety: Your Best Witness in the Courtroom and on the Road, a one-hour webinar on Thursday, November 16 at 11:00 am Pacific.

Will PartenheimerWill Partenheimer has over 24 years of experience in Crash Reconstruction and Fleet Safety. He has investigated over 1,000 crashes throughout the country and specializes in commercial vehicles. Will has evaluated video data – many in crashes – and has given presentations to industry groups on its use. He can be contacted at or 804-334-8571