Why Is Collision Investigation Important?

This is an excerpt from my new book Is Traffic Available? The Patrol Officer’s Guide To Collision Investigation

A crash could be a life-altering event for you, a friend or someone you love. When a crash happens, people look to us, the police, for help. People don’t care if you like traffic accident reports or not. They don’t care if you’ve taken a thousand crashes in your career or if this was your tenth. They just want your help. 

The collision report is more than just the event that took place on that day or night because what we do affects people’s lives. This is why we, the accident investigators, need to take pride in what we do and how we do it.

Some things in police work aren’t sexy and in the opinion of most, traffic accident reports are at the same level of going to the dentist. Ask patrol cops and they’ll tell you they’d rather take a domestic violence report than a collision report.

What scares cops so much about crashes? Is it the measurements, the diagram or is it the fear of the unknown? Is it the feeling of not knowing where to start on a five-car DUI roll-over crash at 2AM or is it because you’re out of your comfort level?

Well, I used to be one of those guys because I didn’t know what to do or where to start. I only had one ten-hour shift of traffic training during FTO and I only took report that day.  I can vividly remember being dispatched to a roll-over crash at 2:37AM (I was off at 3AM) and the dread I felt. When I arrived, I saw a downed light pole, two downed palm trees and a crashed car with a male in the backseat whose head was twisted in a weird angle. 

It was like a bomb exploded with tree parts and jagged concrete pieces from the light pole strewn about the street. Talk about feeling alone because the fire department wasn’t there yet.  I was screwed big time. How was I going to measure this? Where was I supposed to start? How was I going to draw the diagram? Where were the graveyard units!

Then it happened. There was bright light that made me squint and turn my head as I raised a hand to shield my eyes. Was it proof of life in a far-off galaxy, or was it a secret weapon designed by the military? No, it was the Traffic Guy and he walked with the swagger of a gunslinger in the Old West and the sound of his spurs clicking on the asphalt. He stopped, took in the scene and said, “I got it.”

I stood there with my mouth wide open and wondered, “How?”  I took a step back and watched as he worked his traffic magic like an artist painting a masterpiece or Beethoven conducting the 9th Symphony.

This might be a bit exaggerated, but it’s not that far from the truth. I was scared of crashes and I truly had no idea where to start that night. I felt helpless, which was not a good thing if you’re a cop. As police officers we’re supposed to know all the answers because we’re problem solvers. We’re finger pointers, not thumb suckers.

Well, at that moment I was thumb sucker just like some cops are when it comes to the world of traffic investigation. It’s not to put them down. It’s just a fact. Traffic investigation is mysterious to some and hated by others. It is also known as the best kept secret by those who work it.

In conclusion, traffic collisions might not be your cup of tea, but they’re part of the job, so let’s make the best of the situation and investigate them with the same enthusiasm as the “real” crimes.

The night Uber needed a taxi


Last week I pulled up to a collision call and saw three disabled vehicles in the road and one parked at the gas station on the corner. It seemed like there were a ton of people standing around being treated by fire personnel or speaking with officers. It was as if the cars threw up people all over the place.

Everyone was calm except for one loud mouth drunk who just liked to hear himself talk. He pretty much yelled the entire call and was downright obnoxious. His dumbness wasn’t directed at us, but he certainly was the fart in the elevator.

After a few minutes I figured out who was who in the zoo and started interviewing the drivers. One driver was stopped for a red light when his truck was turned into an accordion with four wheels. He was the first to get rear ended and was pushed into the car in front of him. The truck’s rear end was smashed and its front wheel broke off like it was a small Lego piece. One look at that poor truck and you knew it was going straight to car heaven.

I next spoke to an Uber driver, who told me the soon to be accordion was stopped behind him when they were rear ended. The impact turned his poor Uber mobile into a metal paper weight. The damage on that vehicle was bad. It was also getting a trip to car heaven.

I went on to interview the fourth driver and asked him what happened. In a weird twist, he was also an Uber driver with a carload of passengers.

The two Uber drivers were unrelated and just happened to be Ubering in the wrong place at the wrong time. At least they didn’t crash into each other. That would’ve been too weird.

I learned that both sets of Uber passengers had been drinking and did the responsible thing by getting a ride. Unfortunately, there was an unlicensed DUI driver behind them who wasn’t responsible. What are the odds of drunk people getting rear ended by a DUI driver?

And in the final twist of irony, we had to call a taxi to pick up some of the Uber passengers because they needed a ride.

You can’t make this stuff up.

“Was he in the crosswalk?”


There’s a certain detachment that I have about my job as a traffic cop. It’s simple. A crash goes out and I go. Whether it’s a minor fender bender or a fatal traffic collision, you go and do what needs to be done.

Once at the call we handle it, clear and move on to the next. There’s no time to get emotionally invested because of the nature of the job. I’m like a band-aide. Just a temporarily fix on the wound.

Later on I finish the report and staple the pages together. I walk over to the inbox in the traffic office and I toss it in. My role in that particular collision is over.

I never see the physical or emotional scars that were inflicted by the collision after I clear the scene. I’m not there for the pain and suffering, nor am I there for the funerals or physical therapy the injured have to go through.

I don’t remember their names or their license plate numbers. My memory only gets jogged about a crash when I drive down the street and pass certain locations. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s just better to keep an emotionally safe distance away from the injuries and death that happens every night.

It’s how I can keep doing this job and still feel like a normal person when I’m at home, away from the madness. That’s what works for me.

A few weeks ago I took a major injury collision involving a pedestrian on the west end of the city. He had already been transported to the hospital before I arrived. The only thing left in the street were his shoes, clothes and a lot of blood.

Once I cleared the scene, I moved on and wrote the report just like I always do. There was no attachment because I never saw the victim and I didn’t know anything about him, other than what was on my paper work.

On Friday,  I had to call the victim’s daughter because she was trying to track down her father’s identification card. Part of me didn’t want to call because that would put a human voice to the report I had already turned in.

I spoke to her and explained that her father did not have an identification card in his wallet at the scene. The family couldn’t find it and she had no idea where it could be. She then said, “I don’t even know what happened.”

I instantly felt bad for her because he was in the hospital with life threatening injuries and she had no idea what happened.

I then told her how the collision occurred and what the witness said that night. I felt bad telling her he ran out in front of the car because I’m sure it gave her a visual to go with what her father looked like in the hospital.

When I was done explaining what happened she asked, “Was he in the crosswalk?”


The word hung in the air like a thick fog that swallowed up everything around it as she took in what I just said.

I broke the silence by asking how her father was doing. I knew the injuries were major that night, but I didn’t have any further information about him. She started crying and told me the doctors suggested they pull the plug because he was in a vegetative state.

She sobbed and took a deep breath as she said, “I can’t do that to my father. God is good and I’m praying for a miracle.”

Her words were hard to hear because of the emotion and deep pain behind them. Even though she was a stranger, I still felt for the family. He was someone’s father.

I wished her luck and we concluded our call. There wasn’t much to say after that.

Before the phone call, the collision was another in a long list of fatal and major injury traffic accidents that I’ve handled. It was report, a piece of paper that I prepared and turned in. It was nothing personal. I was business.

After the phone call, it was different.  Now there was a voice of pain and sadness attached to it. That’s just part of the job.