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Understanding the NHTSA’s special crash investigations

At Elk & Elk Co., Ltd., in Washington, we understand that the cause of any motor vehicle crash may not be evident at first, and in fact, there may be many factors that lead to an accident. After a collision, you expect the insurance company to investigate. However, sometimes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gets involved.

The NHTSA doesn’t investigate every crash, but the agency also does not restrict itself to certain types of motor vehicle accidents. The agency’s selection process is flexible, but typically investigations meet a particular research need of the agency, and may include the following:

  • Emerging technologies
  • Restraint systems
  • Vehicle-pedestrian crashes
  • Safety defects
  • School bus involvement

There are many sources that may bring the accident to the agency’s attention so that it becomes a case of interest:

  • The NHTSA’s Vehicle Safety Hotline or Office of Defects Investigation
  • Government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Response Center
  • Automotive manufacturers
  • Law enforcement agencies
  • Engineers
  • Medical personnel

As a vehicle owner, you may also be able to bring the issue to the NHTSA’s attention, although that does not mean it will be selected for investigation. 

Cooperation on the part of everyone involved is essential to ensure a successful investigation. This does not just refer to you and the other driver, your insurance companies and the manufacturers of your vehicles. Investigators will probably also need to contact local law enforcement, tow truck operators, first responders and other medical providers who were involved, to name a few. They will also need to be able to examine the vehicles themselves and the scene of the crash.

Investigators may gather information by interviewing everyone involved in the crash. However, no personal information is kept in the files so personal records cannot be accessed by those reviewing the crash data. Typically, crash data is used primarily to improve automotive safety.

More information about motor vehicle crashes is available on our webpage.