Who Was the Driver Case Study
A single-vehicle collision occurred in a rural area. A two-door, open-Jeep-type passenger vehicle left the roadway, traveled over 100 feet into a wooded area, and contacted a tree. When the police arrived, they found the damaged driver side of the vehicle in contact with the tree, and an occupant inside the vehicle trapped in the damaged driver’s compartment area, which was against the tree.
While investigating the collision, the police found a second person, outside the vehicle, in the wooded area between where the vehicle left the roadway and where the vehicle came to rest against the tree. Both the occupant inside the vehicle and the person outside the vehicle were deceased.
Among the questions asked was: who was the driver? On the surface, one might think that because there was an occupant trapped in the driver-side compartment of the vehicle when it came to rest that that occupant still inside the vehicle had to have been the driver.
An analysis applying the laws of physics to the available physical evidence defined how the vehicle moved from where it left the roadway to where it contacted the tree. Specifically, the laws of physics dictated that as the vehicle left the roadway it underwent a rather severe clockwise rotation. The analysis of the dynamics established that as the vehicle underwent this rotation, both occupants moved to the left relative to the interior of the vehicle. During this rotation, the occupant operating the vehicle moved into the driver’s side door, opening the door allowing him to exit the vehicle, coming to rest in the woods. The now driverless vehicle continued its clockwise rotation and the driver side contacted the tree, closing (and jamming) the door in place. All the while, leading to the point when the vehicle contacted the tree, the remaining occupant in the vehicle (formerly the front seat passenger) was still moving to the left (relative to the interior of the vehicle), ultimately coming to rest in the driver– side compartment, adjacent to the jammed shut, damaged door and tree. The plotting of the physical evidence showed that the point of rest position of the ejected driver was consistent with the path and rotation of the vehicle as defined by the laws of physics.
The bottom line in the subject case, and in all cases, is that although the data may initially appear to show one scenario, until the physical evidence is correlated to the applicable laws of physics, no engineering opinions should be reached.