Transit Collision Scene Management

Special Guest Columnist Donald Pike, Course Manager U.S. Department of Transportation Transportation Safety Institute donald.pike@dot.gov

The US DOT/Transportation Safety Institute has been teaching collision investigation courses all over the Nation for over 25 years. The original courses (still being taught today-with periodic updating) were the result of a spike in public transit liability claims and lawsuits over the years. Many transit agencies in small/rural areas, where police departments were not highly trained to conduct such investigations (outside of life-preservation and assigning fault), resulted in the need to process transit collisions (from a public entity standpoint) as a reconstructionist would do so. Hence, the current TSI course offerings.

In today’s world, police departments are more sophisticated, typically train to much higher/more in-depth collision scene processing techniques, and larger cities now utilize their very own police forensic units and/or traffic collision investigation units. Additionally, the enormous increase in traffic congestion has added the unique challenge of thorough investigations vs. clearing the roadway and resuming normal traffic flow. The latter point has intensified our need to design a course which focuses on collision scene management (who is doing what and when) and evidence/data gathering (in priority order) which will maintain the highest integrity of the investigations completed. And all of this, while today’s traffic collision scenes are being left “in-place” for much shorter post-collision time periods (in some instances, less than 15 minutes).

Although police departments have increased the training of their respective officers immensely, public transit officials still have a need to be involved in this process and are mandated by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to conduct crash scene investigations (NTD); as the events relate to “revenue service” vehicles, post-accident drug/alcohol testing, life-safety evacuations, passenger injuries/claims, and the list goes on:.

The goal is to design and deliver a “new” course which reduces the amount of training dedicated to playing the role of the “reconstructionist” at the scene and place more focus on accurate data/evidence collection by the transit collision scene first responder; to include the following:

  1. Develop the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively “assist” the traffic officer’s/incident commander at the collision scene
  2. Highlight the need for ALL public transit systems to build a working relationship with emergency responders (police/fire/ems) and conduct drills/tabletop exercises related specifically to transit collision scene investigations (learning each other’s respective procedures/priorities)
  3. Provide knowledge and skills, to course participants, which are necessary to process the crash scene effectively , protect life and property, and write accurate reports of the investigation
  4. Provide demonstrations and participant practice exercises related to measuring and recording crash scenes, photography, field sketching ,and interviewing techniques so that a crash reconstruction expert can use the data to accurately analyze the crash at a later date.”

The target audience would include all public transit personnel who are responsible for responding to transit collisions, all transit personnel responsible for overseeing the transit first responders, risk managers, claims adjusters, and interested local/state police department personnel.

Current TSI Fundamentals of Bus Collision Investigation Course Curriculum and Focal Points:

  • Chain of Events and Investigator Tools/Equipment
  • Center of Mass and Evaluating Damage and Debris
  • Interpreting and Measuring Tire Prints and Skid Marks (focal points with field exercises which include measuring and use of a drag sled)
  • General Principals of Collision Investigation Math and Use of Calculations (focal points with classroom exercises related to multiple math formulas)
  • Minimum Speed Estimates (focal points and extensive calculations through classroom exercises)
  • Finding Radius, Measuring Yaws, and Speed Estimates from Yaws (focal points with classroom exercises)
  • Interview Techniques, Photography, and Field Sketching
  • Assembling the Investigation and Case Studies

Potential New TSI Collision Investigation Course Curriculum and Focal Points:

  • Collision Scene Management-First Responders’ (Police/Fire/EMS) Duties and Priority Tasks (focal points with direct link to transit’s roles/responsibilities) (NEW)
  • Chain of Events and Investigator Tools/Equipment
  • Center of Mass and Evaluating Damage and Debris
  • Pedestrian and Motorcycle Collisions (NEW) {currently, this only covered in our advanced collision investigation course)
  • Interpreting and Measuring Tire Prints and Skid Marks (focal points with field exercises which include measuring and use of a drag sled)
  • General Principals of Collision Investigation Math and Use of Calculations (focal points with classroom exercises related to multiple math formulas)
  • Minimum Speed Estimates (focal points and extensive calculations through classroom exercises)
  • Finding Radius, Measuring Yaws, and Speed Estimates from Yaws (focal points with classroom exercises)

***The subjects listed above would be covered in curriculum modules, but from the standpoint of why measuring is still necessary and briefly explain what a reconstructionist would typically do with this data. Thus a much more “surface level” explanation of the mathematics involved at a collision scene.

Increased focus area

  • Interview Techniques (focal points and participant practice exercises)
  • Photography (focal points and field exercises including a staged accident scene)
  • Field Sketching (focal points and field “timed” exercises including stop watch for when the first responders start moving vehicles)
  • Videography and New Technologies Available (NEW)
  • Collision Case Files (focal points including report writing, documentation & timelines, risk management concerns, legal and liability

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