COVID-19 has been associated with another unlikely consequence – a rise in motor vehicle crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that prior to 2019, “the number of fatalities had fallen for three straight years.” However, during the pandemic, traffic deaths surged. The increase in motor vehicle fatalities between January and September of 2021 “represents the highest percentage increase over a nine-month period since the Transportation Department began recording fatal crash data in 1975.”
This rise in traffic crashes has created a high demand for professionals who investigate crashes. Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) is one of only a few agencies in the country providing training courses and professional certificates for accident investigators, and there has been an increase in demand for this type of investigative training.
TEEX Instructor C.J. Meaux has been in law enforcement since 1980 and investigating crashes since 1981. He is a Senior Accident Investigator for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and a Certified Reconstructionist who has been instructing crash courses for TEEX since 2011. Recently, he has observed an increase in the demand for courses. Historically, he taught two or three courses per year, but he has eight scheduled this year.
Meaux says crashes initially slowed when COVID started because many people stayed home. However, with less road traffic, people began to drive faster, leading to more fatal crashes. When people started driving again, the high speeds stayed, and crashes increased.
TEEX offers three professional certificates through the Texas Forensic Science Academy (TFSA): Collision Investigator, Collision Reconstructionist and Master Collision Reconstructionist. The certificates are appropriate for those employed by investigative agencies and insurance companies as well as law enforcement investigators and forensic practitioners.
Those training to become crash investigators will learn to document, measure, evaluate and diagram crash scenes. They will use physics formulas and mathematical calculations to determine speed, time to stop, distance to stop and more. As the professional certificates are earned through TFSA, they all have a forensic aspect which allows for the development of a more skilled, holistic investigator.
Former student Trace Shannon took his first course with TEEX in 2011 and has earned a TEEX TFSA crash professional certificate. He now serves as a Traffic Homicide Investigator with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. He took TEEX’s training because he felt it was “the most comprehensive training. Additionally, in today’s world, you’re not noticed if you don’t have a certificate or diploma, and TEEX has the certifications and backing of A&M.”
Of his instructors at TEEX, Shannon says, “They teach you to learn the information instead of just to pass the exam. Even when I get stumped or need reassurance that I’m moving in the right direction on a case, I know I can call C.J. up at any time, and he’s always there and willing to help.”
Meaux insists that, even though the job involves a lot of math, he doesn’t have any special talent in that arena. He says, “The math is secondary. You take the formula and fill in the blanks. You just have to be good at getting the information to fill in the blanks.”
In his 25 years of doing this job, he has come to understand how significant it is. He says, “If you make a mistake in calculations, you could be denied the ability to testify and could lose the whole case.” TEEX’s courses are so important because, as Meaux says, “We teach people how to really investigate a crash to find out who is at fault. We can help get justice for people who are killed. Second, if we can determine what causes crashes, we can make educational programs to remind people to slow down, not drive intoxicated and wear a seatbelt.”
For more information on this program, see https://teex.org/program/traffic-and-accident-investigator/.
Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service
Vita Vaughn | Director of Marketing and Communications/CMO