Turning Folklore into Forensic Science
Chris Goddard BSc CEng MIET MCSFS
Have you ever come across some aspect of your work and thought, that’s interesting, it could be useful?
Have you gone one step further and actually thought, I will make use of that?
I have, and initially regretted it, but then turned the problem into a whole new aspect of forensic collision
On the 20th April 2008 I was called as a Forensic Collision Investigator to a double fatality involving a head
on collision in a rural part of Wales. Nothing new so far for me, but one of the cars involved left what
looked like a snapshot of what it was doing at the moment of impact, by freezing all the instruments.
I had seen this phenomena many times before, but sometimes the speedometer would read 120mph
when clearly a Honda Jazz can’t do that! Other times it would be a realistic reading with other evidence
and witnesses confirming the frozen speedo reading.
In this case the readings were realistic. Some checks were made and indeed the car did have ¼ tank of
fuel. It had been on a journey for 6 miles, so the temperature gauge would have been right and the speed
and engine revs matched the selected gear. It all made sense.
What’s more, in this case, if I knew the speed of this car, it would be (relatively) easy to determine the
speed of the other. If this car was doing 48mph as its speedometer
suggested, then the other car would have to be travelling at 87mph. This matched with other evidence
including witnesses, so I used the frozen reading as part of my evidence.
The Court Case
BIG mistake! During the court trial the reliability of the evidence was tested. Questions like, “How often
have you used this technique?” Err – None.
“Where is the research to show that this happens?” Umm – There isn’t any.
A car’s instrument cluster after
a collision is frozen at what
appears to be the readings at
the moment of impact.
As well as the speed, engine
revs, temperature and fuel
level are also visible.