How Long Does It Take to Investigate a Fatal Car Accident?

How Long Does It Take to Investigate a Fatal Car Accident?

Although fatal wrecks happen in an instant, the same can not be said about the crash investigation. How long does it take to investigate a fatal car accident? There are a lot of details the investigators need to determine what happened, and it can take two months for an investigation to be completed.

One example of why it can take so long for a crash to be investigated is officers may have to have blood drawn from the at-fault driver to see if they are intoxicated. It can take weeks to get toxicology tests back. The results of the test will help them determine whether or not to pursue criminal charges.

If your loved one was killed in a car accident and they weren’t at fault,  it can be difficult to remain patient while an investigation occurs. Your patience in this matter will be worth it in the end because you will be able to take the findings of the investigation with you into court.

What Happens at the Scene of a Fatal Crash

Immediately after a fatal crash, emergency responders rush to the scene to attend to the injured or deceased. The area is then cordoned off, much like a crime scene, and a meticulous investigation begins. Here's what typically happens:

  • Tire Skid Marks and Road Damage: Investigators analyze skid marks, gouges, and scratches in the asphalt to understand the vehicles' movement before the crash.
  • Property Damage: Any destruction to guardrails, signs, or other property is noted as it may provide clues to the accident's cause.
  • Biological Evidence: This can include blood samples or other biological materials that might shed light on the crash's dynamics.
  • Accident Reenactment: Using the collected data, investigators may create a computerized reenactment of the accident, which can be a vital piece of evidence in court.

The scene's investigation is a critical phase, laying the groundwork for understanding how the accident occurred and who may be at fault.

What Happens to the Vehicles

After the on-site investigation, the involved vehicles are towed to a secure location for further examination. This phase includes:

  • Damage Documentation: Investigators photograph and document all damage to understand the collision's force and direction.
  • Seat Belt Inspection: Verifying that seat belts were functioning correctly can be crucial in understanding injuries and fatalities.
  • Vehicle's Computer Analysis: Modern vehicles are equipped with computers that store valuable data. Investigators may download this information to learn about braking attempts, seat belt usage, and speed at the time of the crash.

The evidence from the vehicles provides a technological insight into the crash, complementing the physical evidence from the scene.

What Happens During Witness Interviews

Witnesses play a vital role in fatal car accident investigations. Their accounts can corroborate or challenge the physical evidence, leading to a more accurate understanding of the event. Here's how the process typically unfolds:

  • Immediate Interviews: Some witnesses may be interviewed at the scene, providing fresh and immediate accounts of what they saw.
  • Follow-up Interviews: Investigators may conduct follow-up interviews with witnesses who were not initially available or who come forward later.
  • Assessment of Dangerous Driving: Witnesses who observed erratic or dangerous driving behavior before the crash can provide essential context.

The witness interviews are usually completed within the first ten days after the crash, capturing memories while they are still fresh and unaltered.

Charges That May Be Brought

The findings of the investigation may lead to criminal charges against the at-fault driver. These charges can range from vehicular manslaughter to felony manslaughter or even murder. Here's what you need to know:

  • Criminal Charges: Depending on the circumstances, the at-fault driver may face serious criminal charges, with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment.
  • Civil Court: In some cases, the matter may proceed to civil court, where the focus is on compensation rather than punishment.
  • Legal Representation: Engaging a car accident lawyer can be crucial in navigating the complex legal landscape, ensuring fair settlement or award.

A car accident lawyer helps you figure out what damages you are eligible to collect. If you end up in civil court, you may choose to represent yourself, but this is not the wisest choice after a serious accident that resulted in death. Some of the damages involved in these cases are difficult to calculate, such as how much the deceased would have earned if they were still alive.

A lawyer will make sure your settlement or award is fair, and they’ll prevent you from settling for too little because you want to get it over with. The most important thing an attorney can do for you is to handle the details so you can keep your focus on helping your family to move forward after such a tragic event.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Long Does It Take to Investigate a Fatal Car Accident? FAQ

Why does a crash investigation take so long?

A crash investigation, especially in the case of a fatal accident, is a complex and meticulous process. It involves examining the scene, analyzing vehicle damage, interviewing witnesses, conducting toxicology tests, and possibly recreating the accident through computerized simulations. Each of these steps requires time and precision to ensure accuracy, leading to a thorough and sometimes lengthy investigation.

What happens in a fatal accident?

In a fatal accident, immediate emergency response is followed by a detailed investigation. The scene is secured, and evidence such as skid marks, road damage, and biological samples are collected. The vehicles involved are examined for damage and computer data, and witnesses are interviewed. Legal proceedings may follow, depending on the findings, which can lead to criminal charges or civil lawsuits.

How long does a police report take after an accident?

The time it takes to obtain a police report after an accident can vary depending on the jurisdiction, the complexity of the accident, and the workload of the responding agency. In most cases, a police report may be available within a few days to a couple of weeks after the accident. It's advisable to contact the local law enforcement agency that responded to the accident to inquire about the specific timeline and process for obtaining the report. If legal representation is involved, an attorney may also assist in acquiring the police report.

What goals do investigators have when examining a car accident?

Investigators aim to determine the cause and circumstances of the accident. They seek to understand factors such as speed, direction, road conditions, driver behavior, and vehicle functionality. The findings provide essential evidence for legal proceedings and can help in improving road safety measures. Ultimately, the investigation serves the pursuit of justice and the prevention of future accidents.

How long do most car accident settlements take?

Car accident settlements can vary widely in duration, depending on the complexity of the case, the willingness of parties to negotiate, and the legal jurisdiction. Simple cases may be resolved in a matter of weeks or months, while more complex cases involving serious injuries or fatalities may take a year or more. Engaging a skilled car accident lawyer can often expedite the process and ensure a fair settlement.

How can a lawyer help in a fatal car accident case?

A lawyer specializing in car accident cases can provide invaluable assistance by navigating the legal landscape, negotiating with insurance companies, and representing the client in court if necessary. They can help in calculating and pursuing fair compensation for damages, including medical expenses, loss of income, pain and suffering, and more. Their expertise ensures that the legal rights of those affected are protected and that the process is handled with professionalism and care.


Investigating a fatal car accident is a complex and meticulous process that can take up to two months or more. From the immediate response at the scene to the in-depth analysis of vehicles and witness interviews, every step is vital in determining the truth. While the length of the investigation may be frustrating, it's essential to recognize the importance of thoroughness and accuracy. In the end, the detailed investigation serves the pursuit of justice, providing the evidence needed in court and helping families find closure after a tragic event.

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