Map crash scenes quicker, safer

For years, this country’s roadways have been a recurring scene of death and destruction due to fatal car crashes.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that about 43,000 people are killed in fatal car accidents each year in...

Sgt. Crane said officer safety was a factor in buying the Topcon 3100 series “because with the reflectorless (models) we don’t have to have an officer in the roadway while mapping a crash. A lot of times we have live traffic and leave the road open so cars can still go through,” Sgt. Crane said.

By upgrading to the newer total stations, highway patrol crash investigators across the state can always map scenes easily and quickly since they have access to one or more of the Topcon units. This is especially helpful to those troopers who must investigate longer crash scenes that develop  in rural areas.

Not just safer, devices give more data

Safety is the main challenge that the National Association of Professional Accident Reconstruction Specialists (NAPARS) sees relative to mapping crash scenes. Says NAPARS President Chuck Veppert, “Anytime you’re interacting with traffic, there’s a chance you could back up traffic and, in fact, end up with another traffic accident. That’s our main challenge--to see how safely we can do it and not to cause another traffic accident,” Veppert said.

Related to safety, of course, is the time it takes to map a crash scene, which Veppert feels must be condensed to ward off the potential for secondary traffic accidents. With older mapping technology, such as tape measures or roll-a-wheel tapes, it took long stints of time to measure crash scenes. “Not only did this place officers in danger for whatever period of time they were on the roadway, but it also meant that more than likely you were going to take less measurements than what we do nowadays with the total stations,” Veppert said.


Although it might take an investigator the same amount of time to map a crash scene using a total station versus a tape measure, he can capture up to 50 times as many measurements, Veppert argues. “So, we can be much more accurate in that same amount of time,” he said.

Shooting distances of total stations have improved as well. Veppert noted that the new Sokkia 50RX Series reflectorless total stations have an extended measurement range of up to 400m (1,310 feet). In addition, a company news release on this product announcement says variation of measurement time due to different ranges and object types has been reduced by 30 percent to increase total measurement speed.

“This is a great improvement over the early reflectorless units,” Veppert said of the total station’s extended measurement range.

Valuable time saved

Saving time with measuring crash scenes is one of the biggest benefits of using today’s more advanced total stations. Not only does this allow quicker scene clean-up and boost safety, but it helps reduce the cost of lost revenue for detained motorists.

For example, Det. Redfairn of the Las Vegas Metro Police Dept. indicates that when investigators used older total stations, it would take between four and five hours to map a typical fatal accident scene. “When we got the robotic total stations, it went down to about three hours,” Det. Redfairn said. “Now, with the GPS, it’s taking two hours to two hours and 45 minutes.”

Shoot scenes off roadway

For Neil Trantham, a Nebraska State Police officer and owner of Nebraska Accident Reconstruction, setting up a total station for a crash scene off the roadway is paramount. He finds the most dangerous place to be at a crash scene is where the officer directing traffic is located, at the far end of the accident scene. “Because traffic is coming along at highway speed, people aren’t paying attention when they come up on the scene, which causes a lot of secondary rear-end crashes,” Trantham said.

Trantham prefers to set up a total station between 50 and 100 feet off the roadway. This approach, he reveals, makes it easier to locate the operator of the total station’s reflector and to aim the total station to map the scene. “Safety is number one,” Trantham said. “Plus, when you’re at the instrument itself, your focus is not always on the traffic and what’s going on around you. You can focus on the number one thing at hand and that’s mapping.”

Although some vendors and users may claim that the latest high-end total stations are one-person operational, Trantham disagrees. These are one-man systems, he explains, but the operator is physically holding the

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