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Auto Accident Investigation by Drone

Auto accident investigation by drone is becoming a common approach throughout the U.S. It is being used by nearly 1,000 state and local law enforcement agencies now. The use of drones is increasing, as well. Use of drones by law enforcement for any purpose has been carefully defined in most of the states that currently use drones. Most have restricted the use of drones to accident investigations, tracking wildfires, search and rescue efforts, and amber alert searches.Accident Investigation by Drone -- Altizer Law

Why are Law Enforcement Agencies Using Drones for Accident Investigation?

Using drones to investigate auto, truck and other accidents on our roadways has several advantages over the traditional methods. Among the benefits are:

  1. It is more effective. Drones are able to make a 3D images and models of an accident scene. This allows investigators a better view of the crash that actually puts together all of the pieces.
  2. It saves time. Most accidents investigated without drones require 2 or 3 hours to investigate, using chalk outlines, distance measurement, skid mark analysis, and more. The drone can gather and assimilate all of that information in about 25 minutes.
  3. It keeps traffic moving. When a serious accident occurs, traffic can be stopped for hours, as most of us know. When a drone is used, its unique ability to create useful models of the crash in a shorter time period gets traffic moving again much faster.
  4. It makes accident investigation safer for law enforcement personnel. It requires a certain bravery for a police officer to make measurements, analyze distances, view the crash from all angles, etc. while traffic is zooming by at up to 70 miles per hour. The drone keeps these officers safely away from traffic while it builds its models.
  5. It is cost effective for the law enforcement agencies. Starting a drone program involves an investment of $15,000 to $40,000 or more to purchase drones, to train the people who will operate them, and to install the digital programming that will enable the models to be examined by investigators. Much of this expense is a one-time cost. Further, compared to overtime expense for personnel, it saves money over time.
  6. It frees officer time so that it can be used in other ways. If drone use saves 2 hours of investigation time, that time can be used for other emergency needs.

Privacy Concerns and Drone Use

Many people and many organizations that protect them are concerned about the possible misuse of drones in ways that break the law or that abuse the rights of citizens to a level of privacy. A number of states have addressed this risk by requiring a search warrant in order to use drones for any purpose. Until July of this year, Virginia was one of those states.

The Stafford County Sheriff wanted to use drones for accident investigation. Virginia law required him to get a search warrant before using the drones. The Sheriff contacted State Delegate Bob Thomas, who introduced a bill in the state legislature to allow drones for crash investigation and reconstruction without a search warrant. The bill was passed unanimously by the legislature. It was signed into law in March by Gov. Ralph Northam, and became effective on July 1.

Drone use is one way that auto accidents and trucking accidents can be investigated effectively and efficiently. The models they construct should improve our ability to envision a crash and understand the sequence of events that caused it.


If you or a loved one is injured in an auto accident or other highway accident, Bettina Altizer and her team of professionals are ready to help you. While you recover, we build a case and pursue full and appropriate financial compensation for your hurts and harms. When you need Roanoke’s trusted Attorney call Altizer Law, P.C.