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Ancient car crash

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On Fire
On Fire

Joined: 22 Apr 2006
Posts: 722
Location: Mexico City, MX

PostPosted: Sat Jan 17, 2009 12:25 am    Post subject: Ancient car crash Reply with quote

I stumbled on these pics on a site I visit quite often (see my post on the "Your Websites" forum.

What caught my eye, besides the fact that the damaged car was a very old, 1907-1910 Eagle car, is the fact that these old and very detailed photos could be used as basis for a very interesting forensic analysis of the wreck.

The caption for these photos read: "Auto wreck, Mass. Ave., Washington circa 1917."

These three photos show a car accident that happened sometime in 1917 in Washington, D.C., on the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and 21st Street N.W.

In a remarkable display of modern forensic accident reconstruction techniques worth of CSI, someone used these photos as a basis for a very detailed reconstruction that even included some very good animations. You can find a very illuminating video here:

And a free translation of the text in the video, made by yours truly:

A 100-year-old traffic accident.

Itís always amusing to see old pictures. By looking at these 1917 photographs it looks like we havenít improved at all. An almost daily picture, where we see we have hardly learned anything. On it you can see a wrecked car on the curbside at Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C. It was the longest street in the Capital, formerly known as Millionaireís Row, now Embassy Row.

Itís impressive to see the massive damage, seeing a lonely child watching the wrecked car. You can see the broken wooden spokes of the destroyed wheels. The license numbers of the vehicles involved in the crash are perfectly clear: numbers 26 and 24. Many questions arise when we see these amazing pictures; what actually happened here?

What actually happened?


The information in the following video DOES NOT correspond to a rigorous case study. We donít have the necessary and mandatory starting point data for any serious traffic accident investigation (conditions of traffic, measurements, forensic analysis of the vehicles, etc.)

The following video only offers an appreciation based on the photographs and developed by sheer fun.

Center for the Analysis of Accidents
Investigation and Research of Traffic Accidents



Exhibit A: Impact point
Exhibit B: Skid marks (left wheels)
Exhibit C: Skid marks (right wheels, less visible)

A priori, the vehicle parked at the curbside with license number 24, does not seem to be involved in the accident. There is no appreciable damage or deformations, not even on the front of the vehicle. There are not spilled liquids under it, nor any apparent evidence that could imply it had any part in the accident.

It only has the top pulled to the back without folding; that way it took less time to put it on place in case of rain. Had it been involved in the crash, the front of the car should show appreciable damage, even from the point where this photo was taken. The stick protruding from the left is the steering cane, a forerunner of todayís steering wheels.

Possible mechanics of the accident

The car on the photograph (represented in red in the reconstruction) could be driving on 21 St due North, with the intention of either continuing on the same direction or turning right on the intersection.

Another vehicle (represented on blue) was driving on Massachusetts Avenue, due west.

When it reached the intersection, the car of the photo, either due to loss of control or because of a mechanical problem, or because the driver tried to make the turn at an excessive speed, starts to skid to the right.

It leaves skid marks in the shape of a fan. The marks made by the left-side wheels are darker than those from the right-side wheels, because the left wheels were exerting more friction.

An impact is produced, of the type frontal Ė lateral, damaging mainly the rear-left section of the car. The rear wheels could break at this moment as a result of the impact, since they were bent on an opposite direction from the movement of the car with which the vehicle crashed.

Washington, D.C., 1917.

Massachusetts Avenue
21st Street

It is unlikely that the position on which the car was photographed was its authentic final position after the accident. Probably it was towed away to the curbside so that it wouldnít obstruct the traffic on the street.

In order to move the car, they could have used the rope that appears to be tied to the rear of the car, with the other end of the rope left in the interior of the vehicle after the maneuver.

It is possible that the car was moved to this location in order to allow the leaking fuel to fall to the sewer, in an attempt to prevent possible accidental fires; who knows what policies or procedures followed the towing services back then?
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