The Truck Accident Site — Collecting Crash Site Evidence

Conditions of the Truck Accident Site Help Explain Collisions

The process of collecting and analyzing evidence from motor vehicle collisions — especially the types of major injury and fatality collisions that are more likely to result from large, heavy vehicles like trucks — is a combination of collecting data from and about the people involved in the crash, collecting data about the vehicles and the physical truck accident site, and then analyzing and reconstructing the incident based upon that evidence.

Often crucial evidence can only be collected by an investigation of the truck accident site, including evidence from the vehicles that may point toward mechanical or other defects and evidence such as skid marks, road surface gouges, burns, and other markings, and damage to nearby structures like guardrails and road signs that may help explain how the incident occurred. Investigating, securing, and analyzing this physical evidence is typically an important early effort by any skilled personal injury lawyer who is seeking to understand how the accident happened and to secure proper compensation for clients who were injured in the incident.

Truck Accident Site Damage to the Roadway and Nearby Objects

Many types of damage may be caused to the physical environment during a truck accident, or even merely by the travel of a truck through the location. Evidence of this damage is sometimes only visible immediately afterward, while other evidence may linger for weeks or even months. Observing this evidence and understanding what caused it, is often important for an investigator or personal injury lawyer in determining how the accident happened.

For example, full-size trucks are obviously much larger than passenger cars, and as a result they may cause damage to objects near the roadway that a standard-size automobile would not. Tree limbs overhanging a road may be struck by a tractor or trailer while still being several feet higher than other vehicles. Smaller, less robustly engineered and built roads may sustain surface damage from heavily loaded trucks that would not be caused by cars weighing only one-twentieth their weight.

Observing and recording this damage may sometimes point at other parties having some degree of legal liability for an accident and any injuries that resulted — overhanging tree limbs may place some responsibility on landowners or local municipalities who failed to properly remove or trim the limbs.

At other times, damage to the roadway environment may directly point at failures by the truck driver — for example, by failing to observe and obey signs warning of low overhead power lines or signs warning that a particular road shouldn’t be used by heavy vehicles.

Tire Marks at the Truck Accident Site

Tire marks come in many different types, and they can be key bits of evidence for explaining how and why truck accidents and other motor vehicle collisions occur. Among these types, each with its own story to tell, are:

  • Skid marks — These are the marks often left by a tire whose wheel brakes are locked or near locked, so that the tire has ceased rotating as fast as the road surface is passing by underneath it. It is definitely evidence that the vehicle driver was trying to brake, but an absence of skid marks does not necessarily indicate the driver wasn’t trying to brake — many things like water or ice on the road surface may prevent skid marks, or the driver may not have been braking so hard as to cause the brakes to lock.
  • Skipping skid marks — These are similar to ordinary skid marks, but look more like dashed lines, usually caused when the axle carrying the skidding tire is bouncing up and down as braking occurs.
  • Flat tire marks — Broader tire marks can be indicative of a tire that has either lost pressure due to defect or that was underinflated. They can also be evidence of a too-heavy load in the vehicle.
  • Tire impressions — Left in softer materials such as gravel or soil in roadway medians or shoulders, these marks show where the truck left or entered the roadway before, during, and after a collision.
  • Tire yaw marks — These skid marks or impressions indicate a vehicle that was undergoing substantial lateral (sideways) motions, such as when trying hard to swerve or turn at speed.
  • Collision tire marks — Short tire or skid marks made at the moment of collision when a vehicle is suddenly forced to stop or to move in a different direction, these marks are often helpful in locating impact points in accidents where the vehicles continued moving after colliding.

Other Physical Evidence at the Truck Accident Site

Much of the physical evidence from motor vehicle accidents won’t persist long after the collision itself — shattered glass and fuel spills are usually cleaned up promptly for safety reasons, for example. Other types of physical evidence will last longer, such as tire marks and skid marks which may persist until traffic or weather erases them. Personal injury attorneys who are investigating truck accident scenes on behalf of their clients understand the importance of getting an investigator to the site as soon as possible in order to collect and preserve whatever evidence does remain.

Some types of physical evidence at the site may remain present much longer. Sometimes vehicle debris may be ejected by the vehicles onto roadway shoulders or nearby vegetation and either not observed immediately post-accident or simply not cleaned up right away. At other times, debris may simply be swept off roadway as a quick safety response. In these cases, the evidence may be of limited value since it may be uncertain when it was moved or modified after the accident.

Certain types of accident site evidence may persist and be valuable for a much longer time. One category is gouge marks in the roadway surface. These can remain visible for years, until the next time the road is resurfaced. They’re often caused at or near a point of impact when parts of a vehicle projecting from its undersurface (or which are forcibly torn from the vehicle) contact the road surface and gouge out an impression. One type of gouge mark that is relatively well-known is marks left by the bolt heads projecting downward from a car engine oil pan — these are typically the lowest point of a car engine, and when an impact occurs at the front of a car it tends to force the engine compartment downward, with the oil pan bolts leaving clear gouge mark evidence of the point of impact.

View this video describing the complex calculations a vehicle reconstruction expert can use to translate skid marks and yaw marks into estimates of vehicle speed:

Truck Accident Attorneys in California

Hello, my name is Ed Smith, and I’m a truck accident attorney.  Personal injury lawyers experienced in handling truck and other large commercial vehicle accident cases understand that promptly and thoroughly investigating the accident scene to collect important physical evidence is often key to successfuly concluding personal injury insurance claims or lawsuits for their clients.  If you or a family member has sustained a serious injury due to negligence of a big rig truck driver, please contact us today at (916) 921-6400 or toll-free at (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice. You can also reach us through our online contact form.

We are proud to be members of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

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