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Highway Crashes
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 Highway Crashes

Photo of vehicles on the highway. 

Highway Safety Investigations

Highway safety investigations typically refer to investigations involving select highway crashes concerning issues with wide-ranging safety significance in the United States.

Please review the NTSB TDA Information for Survivors, Families, and Friends Brochure  that describes what survivors, family, and friends can expect throughout a highway safety investigation by the NTSB and additional details related to the information provided on this webpage.


Assistance for Highway Safety Investigations

Although there is no requirement for the NTSB TDA Division to respond to highway crashes, TDA Specialists work with the NTSB’s Investigator-In-Charge (IIC) who is responsible for leading the safety investigation, the NTSB highway investigative team, and local and state agencies to coordinate assistance and information for survivors, family, and friends, either by telephone or on-scene if launched to the crash location. The NTSB TDA Division remains a primary point of contact to survivors, family, and friends during the course of the investigation and provides updates on the release of information associated with the investigation.


Short-term Counseling & Referrals

Short-term emotional support services and referrals are available at the request of survivors, families, or friends at no cost through our partners, the American Red Cross. Please contact the NTSB TDA Division directly for more information or to request this support.


Victim Identification Process

Victim recovery, identification, determination of cause and manner of death, and death certification are the responsibility of the medical examiner or coroner in the jurisdiction where the death occurred. The NTSB TDA Division can provide contact information for the appropriate local authority upon request.


Personal Effects

The NTSB may take custody of personal effects like personal electronic devises or other items relevant to the investigation. Depending on condition, these items may be returned to the owner or a designed family member typically at the conclusion of the investigation. Personal effects not collected by the NTSB may be collected by the medical examiner or coroner, law enforcement or another agency involved in the response. The NTSB TDA Division can assist with questions about personal effects retained by the NTSB or provide contact information for other agencies that may have personal effects in their custody if known.


Vehicle Wreckage

The NTSB has the authority to retain control of and manage access to the vehicle wreckage involved in the crash during the investigation. Inquiries regarding status of wreckage under NTSB control may be directed to the NTSB TDA Division.


Media Interactions

The NTSB does not coordinate interviews with media for family members, friends, or survivors. However, media representatives may attempt to contact you after a crash. The NTSB will not release the identities of victims or survivors of accidents. Such information may be released by the transportation operator involved or local authorities.


Highway Safety Investigation Process

Due to the possible complexity of highway crashes and the extensive nature of the investigation process, a highway safety investigation often requires 12 to 24 months to complete. Depending on the circumstances of the crash, the IIC along with their team and party members may travel to the accident site to collect information. The NTSB has the authority to designate organizations, corporations, or agencies as parties to the investigation. Only representatives who can provide technical or specialized expertise are permitted to serve as a party member and report directly to the NTSB. The NTSB will not determine the cause of a crash while on scene.

The following are reports that can be issued during the course of the investigation and accessible on the NTSB’s Highway Accident Reports webpage:

  • The preliminary report provides a synopsis of factual information collected during the on-scene phase of the investigation. This report is typically available several weeks after the crash.
  • The final report provides a summary of relevant factual information, analysis, findings, probable cause, and safety recommendations issued or reiterated as a result of the investigation; or a highway brief that consists of a short accident narrative, probable cause, and if issued, safety recommendations. Briefs are normally limited to factual information but may contain analysis. The report or brief replaces the preliminary report and is typically available 12 to 24 months following the crash.

A docket contains relevant factual information collected during a safety investigation that is used in the development of reports, briefs, and safety recommendations. The docket is available to access at an appropriate time during the investigation, or at its conclusion.

If safety recommendations or safety alerts are issued because of an investigation, these can be issued at any time during the investigation process.


Staying Informed

If you are requesting information related to a highway safety investigation, please complete an Investigation Update Request Form or contact the NTSB TDA Division for additional assistance.