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Virtual Reality Technology Enhances Crash Reconstruction Investigations


As a crash reconstructionist, being able to look back at a crash scene is key when trying to determine the cause. Imagine stepping into the scene weeks or months later, being able to look up or down and side to side. You turn around in your desk chair and you see Vehicle A coming straight for you. As you watch, Vehicle B begins to turn left. Vehicle A and B collide. All while at your computer, you can navigate throughout the scene, from above, ground level or head on.

As Ohio State Highway Patrol Lieutenant Christopher J. Kinn gives a brief demonstration of virtual reality crash reconstruction, he puts on virtual reality goggles and hand controllers. He can turn and look from any direction, even from above. He navigates throughout the crash scene, moving in and out of the car. He rotates his chair to get another angle as his hands maneuver the screen changing the angle in order to get a better look at the crash scene. “Our goal is to enhance the way we investigate crashes,” Lieutenant Kinn said. “The way to do that is to advance with technology.”

Lieutenant Kinn and the Crash Reconstruction Unit began working with Trimble — a provider of advanced location-based solutions — to pilot a virtual reality crash reconstruction. The Patrol purchased the equipment through a grant provided by the Traffic Records Coordinating Committee and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Patrol is one of the first agencies to add the virtual reality aspect. The virtual crash scene works using a 3D scanner which sends a laser beam to measure millions of points. The scanner takes photos and integrates and colorizes the points. The scanner picks up everything with a higher degree of precision.

Video from nearby surveillance cameras may also be included and allows reconstructionists to track traveling speeds and other factors leading up to the crash. This is especially important when there is a fatality and no witnesses. It gives the investigator the perception of the driver who was hit and a more comprehensive understanding of what was taking place at the time. “As a crash scene investigator, being able to put yourself in the middle of the crash as it happens is invaluable,” Lieutenant Kinn said. “During analysis while at your office, virtual reality provides a wider perspective.” Lieutenant Kinn added that virtual reality lets you go back and see things that were missed the first time, with a better understanding of what the person was thinking at the time of the crash. It offers up a unique perspective, which will also have an impact during court when troopers are on witness stands. “You are now giving the jury a perspective, putting them at the crash scene,” Lieutenant Kinn said. “Relating to jurors how far 10 feet is can be difficult. Here, they see it. They understand better. Essentially, this is the jury’s field trip to the crash scene.” The evolution of the Patrol’s Crash Reconstruction Unit began with nylon measuring tape, physics and math. In the 1990s, crash reconstructionists began using surveyor equipment. In 2011, the unit grew from three reconstructionists, all located in Columbus, to at least one in each district. All nine districts are now assigned a 3D scanner.  Source: Ohio Department of Public Safety