Traffic accident reconstruction has been defined as the effort to determine, from whatever evidence is available, how an accident happened. Traffic accident reconstruction can be treated as a problem in uncertain reasoning about a particular event, and developments in modeling uncertain reasoning for artificial intelligence can be applied to this problem. Physical principles can usually be used to develop a structural model of the accident and this model, together with an expert assessment of prior uncertainty regarding the accident's initial conditions, can be represented as a Bayesian network. Posterior probabilities for the accident's initial conditions, given evidence collected at the accident scene, can then be computed by updating the Bayesian network. Using a possible worlds semantics, truth conditions for counterfactual claims about the accident can be defined and used to rigorously implement a ‘but for’ test of whether or not a speed limit violation could be considered a cause of an accident. The logic of this approach is illustrated for a simplified version of a vehicle/pedestrian accident, and then the approach is applied to four actual accidents.

Received 20 January 2003. Revised 17 April 2003. Accepted 9 May 2003.

Author notes

1Department of Civil Engineering, University of Minnesota, 122 CivE, 500 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA