What does it take to become a crash reconstructionist? 

The field of crash reconstruction requires science and mathematical calculations, specialized tools, and plenty of experience and training. Attention to detail is critical, as crash reconstructionists seek to understand the intricacies behind how and why a collision occurred, and determine whether any laws were broken in the process. A reconstructionist must be knowledgeable, well-spoken, and prepared to testify as an expert witness in the courtroom.

PA State Police Traffic Collision and Recon seminar - crash 2

Crash Reconstructionists can also seek the following certifications: 

  • A.C.T.A.R. (Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstruction) 
  • State-issued Professional Engineer (P.E.) License 

What are some common crash reconstruction glossary terms that every reconstructionist should know? 

Considering that crash reconstruction is a specialized field, it comes as no surprise that there are quite a few words and phrases exclusive to those in the profession. The list below contains the definitions of several common glossary terms that a crash investigator will likely be familiar with. 

Crash Reconstruction Glossary Terms:

A – B – C Pillars: The A Pillar, B Pillar and C Pillar refer to a vehicle’s roof supports. Starting at the front of the vehicle, the pillars separating the windshield and front doors are “A,” the second set of pillars in the middle of the vehicle are “B,” and the third set, in the back of the vehicle, are “C.” 

ABS: Acronym for Anti-lock Braking System. When a vehicle is equipped with an ABS, the rotation of the vehicle’s wheels is automatically controlled after pressure is applied to the vehicle’s brakes, preventing a potential lock-up of the brakes. 

Collision Scrub: A short skid mark left on the road from wheels that have briefly stopped rotating during a collision. When a same-direction crash occurs, a collision scrub is typically longer and straighter than the short, curved collision scrub that results from an opposite direction collision. 

Critical Curve Speed: The maximum speed a vehicle can travel on a curved roadway before losing control. To calculate critical curve speed, the exact radius of the road’s curve must be determined, as well as the friction between the tires and the road. 

Crush Profile/Evaluation: The amount of physical deformation on a vehicle’s exterior. This is calculated based on pre-crash measurements from the vehicle manufacturer and measurements of the impacted areas on the vehicle, post-crash. These measurements are useful in calculating the amount of energy required to cause the vehicle’s crush damage and to identify the vehicle’s speed at the time of collision. 

Drag Factor: Drag factor is the vehicle’s resistance to acceleration or deceleration, which is calculated by dividing the horizontal force required for a vehicle to accelerate or decelerate by the weight of the vehicle’s body. 

Event Data Recorder: A device installed in some vehicles, especially newer models, that records technical and occupant data from the moments before, during, and after a crash.  

Flip: When a vehicle collides with a low object, its center of gravity drops and causes the vehicle body to rotate sideways. See also, Vault. 

Furrow Mark: The mark caused by a wheel or other vehicle part sliding across a soft or impressionable surface, such as dirt or mud. Similarly, a “furrow in mark” is the deeper indentation located at the end of the furrow, where the vehicle stopped sliding. 

Laser Scanner: A tool that collects and measures data points from the vehicle(s), structures, roadway surfaces, and landscape at a crash site. These measurements can be used to generate 3D computer models of crash scenes and vehicle damage. 

OSCR360: A system used to organize, store, review, and visually present evidence from the crash scene. At the scene, OSCR captures 360-degree images from multiple vantage points, including the driver’s perspective from within the vehicle and aerial images from a 27-ft tripod. OSCR allows reconstructionists to clear the scene quickly and virtually re-visit the scene again later. 

Point of Impact: The point where colliding vehicles first strike one another. 

Reference Point: A permanent landmark from which important locations at a crash scene are identified measured. 

Resting Position: The location in which a vehicle stops following a collision. 

Rollover: When a vehicle turns too suddenly and rotates onto its side. 

Scuff Marks: The marks left on pavement by a rotating tire. 

Skid Marks: The marks left on pavement by a skidding (non-rotating) tire, usually containing small pieces of the tire. 

Stopping Distance: The distance a vehicle moves between the moment the driver first perceives danger and the moment the driver begins to physically respond, plus the distance the vehicle travels while the brakes are applied.  

Track Width: The distance between the wheels on the driver and passenger sides of the vehicle, measured from the center of the opposite tire treads. 

Vault: When a vehicle collides with a low object, its center of gravity drops and causes the vehicle body to rotate end over end. See also, Flip. 

Vehicle Positioning: GPS technology within newer vehicle models that automatically generates location information. 

VIN: Acronym for Vehicle Identification Number. A 17-digit VIN is assigned to every vehicle by its manufacturer and used to identify and register the vehicle. 

Wheel Base: The distance between the front and rear wheels, calculated by measuring from the center of each wheel. For a semi-truck, or other vehicle with a tandem axle, the wheel base is the distance between the center of the front wheel to the center of the tandem axle. 

Yaw Marks: The marks left on pavement by rotating tires moving in a direction other than the direction in which the vehicle was headed. 

Additional crash reconstruction resources 

Whether you are a current reconstructionist or interested in pursuing a career in reconstruction, the following organizations can provide valuable information, training, workshops, and certification opportunities. 

ACTAR: The Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstructionists provides national guidelines and standards for training in the field of crash reconstruction.

Driver Research Institute: Formerly Crash Safety Solutions, the Institute provides data, research, consultation, and software services to crash reconstructionists. View more information at https://driverresearchinstitute.com/.  

IPTM: The Institute of Police Technology and Management provides high quality training to the law enforcement community.

NAPARS: The National Association of Professional Accident Reconstruction Specialists is a non-profit organization dedicated to solving problems and continually improving the accident reconstruction field.

WREX Conference: The largest educational crash conference for national and international crash investigators and reconstructionists.

Note: All across the country, smaller regional associations and events have been established, providing reconstructionists with valuable training and networking opportunities. We encourage you to search for an organization in your geographic area, such as PCARS in Pennsylvania, NYSTARS in New York, and IATAI in Illinois. 

Interested in more information on OSCR360 or Crash Reconstruction? Do you have any questions on our common crash reconstruction glossary terms? Check out the links below: