The anatomy of a collision

by James Menzies

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – All collisions are preventable and 80% are due to driver distraction.

That was the message from Bruce Brunsch, a retired police officer and now collision reconstructionist with Split Second Decision. He was speaking at Workplace Safety & Prevention Services’ Partners in Prevention trade show and conference April 30.

Brunsch refused to refer to collisions as accidents, noting every one is preventable. As a collision reconstructionist he pieces together what caused a crash by working from the end of the crash backwards to the beginning.

“I wanted to give answers for people who couldn’t talk anymore, and get answers for families,” Brunsch said of what drew him to the profession. He said he’s investigated thousands of crashes, and all are explainable.

“I’ve never seen a crash I can’t explain,” he said. “It’s not an accident. There’s a cause and an effect and it doesn’t happen out of the ether.”

Brunsch shared some advice on how to prevent crashes, including “checking in” to the task of driving the moment you get behind the wheel. This includes when driving to work.

“Your drive to and from work is part of your job,” he said. “Don’t go on autopilot.”

Being a safe driver also means refusing to resort to road rage because of the actions of other motorists. If a car cuts you off, don’t get mad, Brunsch advised.

“That person doesn’t even know you exist,” he said, adding they were likely distracted. “They’re checked out.”

Getting angry makes a driver more likely to make mistakes. “We get so pissed off, we take a personal affront to it. And we get distracted by it,” he explained.

While a crash occurs in .10 to .25 seconds, it takes a driver 1.5 seconds to react to a situation. And reaction times can become slower as drivers age. Brunsch instructs drivers to look as far ahead as possible, and to always scan the horizon. He even advises talking out loud about what you’re seeing in the distance.

He also advised drivers to practice positional awareness. He investigated a fatality where a truck driver was run over by his friend, who was backing a trailer in the yard.

“If you have to back up a long way, we get stuck looking in one mirror,” he said. “This person got stuck looking in the left mirror and never came back and he ran over his friend and killed him.”

Brunsch suggested practicing situational awareness by parking the truck along lines in empty parking lots, getting the tires as close to the line as possible. It’s a way to become comfortable with the size of the vehicle you’re driving.

It’s also important to leave lots of space. A car traveling at 100 km/h takes 60.56 meters to stop. When approaching curves, be aware of the “critical curve speed” – the speed at which a rollover will occur. Wet roads will reduce the critical curve speed.

“Every road, every curve is different,” Brunsch warned.

Seatbelts must always be worn. He showed an in-cab video from a truck rollover test. The unbuckled occupant was flipped around like a rag doll, while the buckled driver was kept in position.

“They’re designed to help keep you in position if an airbag deploys,” he said.

Brunsch also urged attendees to eliminate distractions by keeping their cellphones and handheld devices turned off, or placed out of reach.

“Our brains only work on one task at a time,” he said. “When you look at your phone, you’re not thinking about driving.”

And distractions aren’t limited to cellphones. Brunsch said if you’re distracted by something else – whether it be an argument with your significant other, or a dispute at work – park the vehicle until you’ve calmed down.

He left attendees with three missions: to practice seeing the big picture by scanning the horizon; to practice positional and situational awareness and learning the size of your vehicle; and to eliminate distractions while driving.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.


  • Good article ,but ….

    Quote :

    “Being a safe driver also means refusing to resort to road rage because of the actions of other motorists. If a car cuts you off, don’t get mad, Brunsch advised.”

    Rather than telling people to control their emotions perhaps you should show them how ………. Wow what a concept ! Include that in your so called “safe driving courses/programs” .

    Teach them how emotion leads to motion . Teach them how to recognize their personal recipe and ingredients leading them to certain stages which lead them to certain emotions . Teach them how to interrupt those stages in order to remain in control . Show them how to create an emotion they desire at will .

    Telling them sounds sweet , teaching them is what will help them change and remain in control .

    Next point :
    “Our brains only work on one task at a time,”

    I don’t agree . Try this simple exercise out . Next time you take a walk , chew gum . Is that not two tasks among an enormous amount of other tasks that you aren’t aware of that your brain is working on subconsciously ? Example , breathing , heart beat , blood circulation , eye winking , etc etc etc . True our focus may diminish on certain tasks while performing multi tasks such as talking to a passenger while driving , and or speaking on a phone while driving .

    If you’re going to allow people to talk and drive , then include that exercise as a lesson in their driving course/program .

    However we shouldn’t attempt to dumb down people . People are great multi taskers . And driving is a multi task job , especially if you’re on the phone while driving and or speaking with a passenger !

    Watch the road , check mirrors repetitively , glance at speed while driving , shifting gears if manual transmission while using clutch , roll up and down window , change radio channel , while driving , etc etc etc.

    Repetition is the mother of skill . Becoming aware and rendering what we do conscious provides us with the ability to make new distinctions and improve ! Eventually the instilled conscious “habit” becomes subconscious . And voila , no more need to actually think about the actual maneuvers required to perform a task .

    People need to be taught about themselves and how to think . Don’t underestimate their capacities and talent . Wake them up to recognize the gods that they truly are . And then show them how to develop and understand their capacities and talents so that they may use them and perform with perfection . Just like we see athletes do . Practice , practice , practice !

    • So correct. But, he told the Insurers what they wanted to hear. It is so easy to shift the blame while NOT in the spoken about situations.
      As a Health and Safety rep for over 12 years, I’m well aware of many scenarios and how the trucking companies insurers motivate, always finding a way to blame the operator, even at times when the investigating Police Officers do not.
      Some situations are simply unpreventable. Here’s one. You’re driving on a 4 lane highway. The driver of the auto in front of you looses control on a patch of black ice she DID NOT see. She panics,looses control and comes to a dead stop in the middle of the two lanes right in front of you. You try to swerve to avoid the car however, on your shoulder is a Police car attending to a vehicle in the ditch. You do your best but a minor collision is UNpreventable. No charges are laid.
      However, the trucking companies insurance says you’re at fault. Seriously?