Using Google Earth for Accident Reconstruction

Accident reconstruction experts use laser theodolite and scanner technology at the site of a serious injury or fatal crash to get measurements. In some cases they overlay the mapped scenes created with these measurements on top of an aerial image of the location provided by Google Earth. This kind of evidence can be used in court, and in some cases can help the jury understand the crash better.

When our law firm hires these specialists, they take their measurements at the scene of the accident. This will not change, even though a recent study found that Google Earth can be used not only for the underlying image of the scene, but also to get some of the measurements.

Google Earth is a map and Global Positioning System (GPS) application that uses satellite and 3D images. The recent study looked at the accuracy of Google Earth for the purpose of creating accident reconstruction images. Researchers compared measurements made using Google Earth imagery with measurements obtained by laser theodolite and laser scanner. Measurements used for this study were taken in both urban and rural settings, and focused on the size and relative positions of roadways, travel lanes, sign posts and other crash-site features.

The study focused on the using the application to pinpoint vehicle rest positions, tire marks, gouge marks and distances traveled by finding the size and relative positions of roadways, travel lanes, sign posts and other relevant features at the crash site.

Comparisons with on-site use of laser theodolite and scanner technology found that Google Earth images yield reasonably accurate measurements (RMSE 0.569 feet) over the scale of typical accident reconstruction distances.

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Source: Wirth, J., Bonugli, E., & Freund, M. (2015). Assessment of the Accuracy of Google Earth Satellite Imagery for use as a Tool in Accident Reconstruction (No. 2015-01-1435). SAE Technical Paper.

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Category: Accidents
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