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Cars, Collisions and Traffic Safety: A Science of Its Own

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

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Accidents happen. Accidents involving motor vehicles happen all the time. By all accounts, vehicle collisions have been around as long as vehicles have, and they can be a constant source of mystery to police and the public alike. Were they caused by driver error? Weather conditions? Mechanical failures? All of the above? Luckily for all of us,  the VPD has a high-octane team of forensic thoroughbreds under the hood of their Collision Investigation Unit to sort through all the elements of a crash and unravel these mysteries for us.

In the past, we’ve had Constables Alana Blackadar and Peter Wimmer explain the inner workings to us and guests of the museum during our Speaker Series. The two members of the police force gave us riveting, first-hand accounts of on-scene collision investigation techniques that are used to determine what happens after cars, drivers, pedestrians and cyclists collide under unexpected circumstances.

A question that Constable Blackadar loves to ask individuals is “What do you think the most common contributing factors to crashes are?” Correct answers include inclines, speed, lighting, weather and visibility. In many of her previous cases, the small details are what lead to major breakthroughs in the investigation. For instance, did you know that skid marks from both tires and shoes can help reveal the direction of a vehicle upon impact?

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There are also interesting facts about witnesses. For example, though many witnesses believe they’ve seen an accident, they’ve actually only looked up after the impact or collision has taken place. This makes it extra important to have camera footage in addition to witness statements.

Constable Wimmer also believes the finer details of collision investigation are essential to determining the cause of the accident. For instance, he uses complex mathematical calculations to determine the speed of impact and then follows step-by-step procedures after arriving at the scene to determine the fault of collision when the circumstances aren’t clear-cut.

Luckily, we live in an era where camera footage is more readily available, and the VPD has found some of the best evidence from bus cameras. So useful are these transit cameras that investigation teams will almost immediately try to see if there are any buses on or near the scene of a collision when it occurs.

A fleet of buses after the morning rush hour at the Translink Marpole bus yard in Vancouver. Photograph by: NICK PROCAYLO, PNG

We don’t think about it often, but traffic safety is an essential element to the safety of all our citizens, and its origins are fascinating. From ensuring the first cars on the streets didn’t hit pedestrians to setting laws for drinking and driving after prohibition, there are many stories that have contributed to the rules of the road as they stand today—and many of them are on display at our newest exhibit: Behind the Lines.

To learn more about Behind the Lines or to buy tickets, click here.


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