Recreational Vehicle Accident Reconstruction

snowmobile accident

The techniques for reconstructing motor vehicle collisions are similar whether they involve passenger cars, pickups, SUVs, and even large trucks. There are, however, unique challenges involved in the reconstruction of All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) and snowmobile collisions.

The first challenge is a lack of data. Unlike other types of vehicles, far less standardized testing and peer-reviewed research exists on the performance and behaviour of ATVs and snowmobiles in crashes.

The second challenge relates to vehicle dynamics. Unlike most road vehicles, ATVs and snowmobiles are more sensitive to shifts in the operator’s body weight (leaning side to side) than to steering; particularly at higher speeds. The position and motion (or lack thereof) of the operator and any passengers must be considered when assessing recreational vehicle collisions. These variables can be difficult to quantify after the fact and make an accurate reconstruction challenging.


snowmobile accident


Figure 1. A rider using body weight to help in a turn.

Additionally, snowmobiles are capable of accelerating roughly twice as fast as a car and yet, even with the rear tracks locked, require twice the distance to stop. Please follow this link to watch a video on some of the research we’ve done on snowmobile acceleration and braking.

An unpredictable environment is the third challenge. ATV and snowmobile crashes occur in very different environments than most vehicle accidents. They often happen in forests and fields, where mud and terrain are important factors that may adversely affect the vehicle’s handling, acceleration, and braking capabilities. Snowmobiles almost always mean snow, and the weather and type of snow not only affect the rider’s ability to see and react to a hazard, but also change how the vehicle handles.

A fourth challenge specific to snowmobile accidents is rapidly disappearing evidence. Where skid marks might last days on a roadway, they can be erased in minutes by heavy snowfall. Such evidence is also susceptible to inadvertent damage. Other snowmobiles, foot-traffic, and rescue efforts can unintentionally destroy critical evidence. It is thus crucial to collect evidence—including photographs of the accident site, description of snow surface and terrain conditions, information on visibility, and a thorough examination of vehicular evidence—as quickly as possible following a collision.

In summary, investigating accidents involving ATVs and snowmobiles poses special challenges. The lack of crash research and data, their unusual handling and performance characteristics, and the different environments where these crashes occur, all contribute to the difficulty of reconstructing these accidents. An expert with experience in these unique challenges can nonetheless provide answers to at least some questions regarding the circumstances of ATV/snowmobile crashes.

Additional Resources:

Snowmobile Research Summary

Snowmobile Research Video

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