A Day In The Life – Parading at Aston Police Station, Thursday May 3rd 2012, Tour of Duty – 07:00 to 16:00
After we response officers attend a serious traffic accident, a specialised traffic will often attend the scene to take over. When the accident is more serious still – when someone has either died or suffered life threatening injuries – the Collision Investigation Unit (CIU) turn out to investigate the cause of the crash.
Today I spent a shift with them in order to get a better appreciation about what they do in the aftermath of the worst accidents and to help understand why it is that roads are closed for long periods as a result.
An early start means, you guessed it, a warm drink and I’ve got to say from the start that the CIU maintain a smooth operation when it comes to sorting out the teas and coffees. They are able to boast a very well stocked canteen and I think from the amount of time they spend in the cold rain on roadsides around the West Midlands, they have obviously learned to appreciate a brew when they have the chance!
As for their work, it’s obviously very difficult to tell when they’re likely to be called out and as such there’s no guarantee that there’ll be a serious incident today requiring their attendance. They tend to work in teams of two on a 24/7 shift rota and when they’re not call out, have files for previous collisions to work on.
Currently based at Aston Police Station, the CIU are shortly due to move into the new Central Motorway Police Group HQ in Perry Barr. We take a trip over to have a look and whilst the building looks like a nice place to work, its the CMPG’s cars out the front that grab the eye – a collection of high powered marked Jaguars which put our aging Astras to shame.
The CIU have their own people carrier type Fords which have most of the rear seats removed to make space for their multiple collision investigation toys. I get a tour of the car and am shown deceleration monitors, friction measurement devices, GPS surveying devices, skid mark kits and more. They carry pretty much everything that they’re likely to need to gather evidence at the roadside and are able to measure a multitude of variables in order to help work out how a crash occurred.
Moving back into the office we look at what goes into an investigation relating to a fatal car crash, whether its putting a report together for Crown Court or more commonly, the Coroner’s Court.
This is where some of the most interesting work comes in – marking taken at the roadside are analysed, measurements are recorded and calculations can be made to work out how fast a car might have been going prior to impact.
Computers are handy in this respect with measurements capable of being imported into a program that can then build a 3D reconstruction of a crash scene. To get a better idea of how this works the £70,000 laser plotting device (a bit like an Xbox Kinect) is set up and we put together a model of the office which is then rendered in colour.
We also talk more about what happens after a crash and why roads are sometimes kept closed. The CIU’s priority is to gather all of the available evidence – this can involve laser surveying, photography, and cataloging debris, all of which can take time to do thoroughly.
Leafing through a few of the CIU’s previous investigation booklets, it’s clear how much detail goes into their investigations. It’s meticulous work and indeed it needs to be – they need to work out what factors led to someone’s death and whether anyone is culpable.
That their work can be so painstaking is the main reason that roads are closed and will remain closed until their job is done properly. They admit that closures do cause delays however as I wrote in a previous blog on the same topic, if it was your loved one deceased you’d want to give them all the time in the world to investigate properly.
Finishing for the day and thankfully no fatal accidents reported, I ask what is the main cause of the accidents that they attend. Excess speed is the first answer, drivers being distracted the second.
From some of the photos they have of unrecognisable cars and the fact that they had over three hundred call outs last year, the message is clear that by keeping your foot off the accelerator and not answering that phone call at the wheel you can greatly reduce the chances of suffering a serious crash.
The work of the CIU shows that you’ve everything to lose by not following their advice.