A field test of an aerial drone equipped with 3-D imaging technology enabled investigators to reconstruct a crash scene in 25 minutes versus two hours using a conventional method; results suggest clearance times can be cut by more than 50 percent.

North Carolina State Highway Patrol uses drones to document and reconstruct serious accidents to unblock roads faster.

Date Posted

How NC uses drones to help clean up crashes quicker

Summary Information

After a large crash, it can take hours for highway patrol to take the measurements and photos necessary to reconstruct a crash scene for investigators to determine what happened, often resulting in big back-ups for travelers. Looking for ways to reduce the amount of time spent clearing incidents, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol enlisted the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to study how troopers could possibly use drones to help investigate collision scenes.

Similar to the laser systems troopers use on tripods, drones can take 3-D images of crash scenes, with the additional ability to take aerial images. Traditionally, troopers had to continuously manually move the tripods to capture photos from every angle. The drone however, is able to capture photos as it moves back and forth in precise, orderly rows.

The drone’s 3-D mapping capabilities were field tested in Asheville in May 2017 when a head-on collision was staged at a state training facility. A team from NCDOT’s Unmanned Aerial Systems program used a drone to map the accident scene, while a team from the Highway Patrol’s Collision Reconstruction Unit used a traditional laser scanner.


In the end, it took the troopers nearly two hours to gather the information they needed with laser scanners, compared to just 25 minutes for the team with the drone. Additionally, using drone technology to investigate collision scenes can mitigate the danger to first responders, as a quicker clean up means less time spent in dangerous conditions around moving traffic.

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