Memory isn’t a concrete thing. It’s pliable. Even if you experience an event directly, as soon as you tell the story, the original version of events is just slightly altered. You experience it all over again, this time with new feelings, new thoughts, which causes the story to shift a little every time you remember it. Most of the time, the flexible nature of memory isn’t much of a problem. But when a collision occurs, it’s kind of important to remember the details correctly.
What a psychologist observed about eyewitness crash accounts
“Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has been particularly concerned with how subsequent information can affect an eyewitness’s account of an event,” said Saul McLeod at Simply Psychology. A witness’s memory can be affected simply by the way a question is phrased, and when exposed to new ideas about something they’ve seen, those ideas become a filter through which they reinterpret their experience.
Loftus helped established this fact back in 1974 with a study called “Reconstruction of an Automobile Destruction.” In her first experiment, participants watched videos of cars crashing, then were questioned on how fast the cars had been going. Different respondents were asked in different words, and the wording directly influenced their answers:
- “How fast were they going when they smashed?” 40.8mph
- “When they collided?” 39.3mph
- “Bumped?” 38.1mph
- “Hit?” 34mph
- “Contacted?” 31.8mph
The difference of one word altered eyewitness estimates by as much as 9mph.
In another experiment, participants were questioned a week after the fact on whether or not they had seen broken glass in the videos. Those in the first group, who had heard the collision described with the word “smash,” were 2-3 times more likely to say they had seen broken glass than those who’d heard it described with the word “hit.” There was no broken glass in the film.
Point being, when people receive information after an event has taken place, it can put a spin on their memory. It can even alter their perception of the original event, causing them to “remember” things that never happened. For insurers processing a claim, that’s a problem.
How to eliminate human error in crash reconstruction?
The only way to eliminate human error is to get your data from something other than a human. Photos, in other words, don’t lie. Neither does insurance telematics data.
In this mobile era, photos are easy to come by. Insureds are generally eager to document accident scenes by using the handheld cameras they carry with them at all times: their smartphones. As for geolocation, velocity and the like, that’s easy to come by, too. Smartphone telematics can be called upon to report just what the conditions were when an incident occurred. That’s valuable information for claims.
How to ensure accuracy in crash reconstruction? Don’t just ask the drivers involved. Ask their smartphones. Click here to learn the many ways smartphone telematics can help your organization perform smarter.