Reconstructing Multi-Vehicle Collisions (a.k.a. “eating” an elephant)


Steven M. Schorr, PE ::::

They typically happen in winter,  during snow storms, when  visibility and road conditions are poor.  We are talking about multi-vehicle collisions. Not just three or four vehicles, but collisions involving dozens of vehicles where there are clusters of damaged vehicles strewn along the highway.  Though many of the vehicle occupants survive unscathed, in the unfortunate cases where occupants are injured or killed, there is even a more pressing need to figure out what happened.

The manner in which multi-vehicle collisions are reconstructed is the same as any other collision, except on a grander scale.  That is, the foundation of the reconstruction still involves defining the points of rest of the vehicles; defining the damage profile to the vehicles; and establishing the angle of impact(s) to the vehicles.  Since many of the vehicles are often involved in multiple collisions, the specific points of impacts on the roadway are sometimes difficult to determine and the task of performing a reconstruction can appear overwhelming.  Cue to the age-old question of “how does one eat an elephant”?  Answer: one bite at a time.  In order to make it more manageable, the larger multi-vehicle collision is broken down into smaller clusters involving just a few vehicles.  The idea is not to be intimidated by the sheer number of vehicles.  Each individual cluster is evaluated before attempting to correlate the smaller clusters with one another.  By systematically working through the available data, one vehicle (bite) at a time, amazing progress can be made in a seemingly arduous task and the evaluation and reconstruction of multi-vehicle collisions can be achieved. (Steven M. Schorr, PE can be reached at 215-659-2010 or via email at

Categories: Case Studies


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