Considerations for major accident investigation

In road transport, coach accidents or accidents with several fatalities or accidents involving transport of dangerous goods, for instance, are treated as major accidents in many countries.

A major accident investigation can be considered as a specific type of safety oriented road accident investigation. There are some additional considerations for the investigation of major accidents that need to be made over and above those made when conducting safety oriented road accident investigations.


Organisational considerations

Ideally, the characteristics of the organisation responsible for major accident investigation should be similar to what is set out in the international conventions or the European directives on major accident investigation in the aviation, maritime or rail transport modes. An independent road accident investigation board should not be subject to outside control in the pursuit of its mission. It should be separate from other bodies, public or private, having financial or other interests in the results of its investigations. It should not take instructions from other bodies or outside personalities. It should have adequate control over the use of its investigation results. Finally, it should be financially autonomous and its members qualified and independent themselves.


The organisation responsible for the investigation of major road accidents should have the autonomy to decide when an investigation should be opened. However the safety authority or other competent authorities should also have the right to submit an accident case (or series of accidents or incidents) to the attention of the investigation organisation, if they consider that important safety lessons might be learned through their investigation.


Choice of investigators

For each major accident investigation, the most appropriate investigation team should be established. This may involve drawing on the expertise of other organisations, including those employed as part of a European Programme.


Data collection

It is especially important in the case of major accident investigation to visit the accident scene as soon as possible following its occurrence. By doing this investigators can collect the more volatile data in the shortest possible time. The collection of data for a major accident investigation does not need to operate on certain restrictions. Investigators should collect all the data that they feel is relevant to that specific accident. This means that additional data, to that specified by a European data collection manual, can be collected and the investigators may choose to focus on a specific element of the accident.


Information about operational procedures should be published either in explanatory literature and/or on the internet. It is important for the investigation of major road accidents to be open in this way in order to retain the trust of the general public.


Legal considerations

At the very least major accident investigators should be given the same rights of access to the scene and evidence as investigators working as part of a European Programme. The major accident investigators are more likely to require additional rights of access, for example to maintenance records and/or design specifications.


Procedure for countermeasure development

The report of a major accident investigation will list recommendations to prevent reoccurrence of the accident. It is necessary that Member States have a system whereby recommendations are passed to the relevant authorities (e.g. road administration) to allow the development of countermeasures. There should be a specific timeframe within which these authorities should respond to the recommendations. This response should include how any resulting countermeasure would be implemented and how its effects will be monitored.


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