How to Become an Accident Investigator


Accident investigators are employed in various industries, such as incidents involving the airline, mining, maritime and traffic industries. Investigators uncover the causes of these accidents by conducting interviews with survivors and witnesses to the crash. Furthermore, they collect and sift through physical evidence for clues to help reconstruct the accident. Then they report on their findings and try to surmise what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again. This is a demanding position that requires frequent travel. When breaking into this highly competitive field, any previous investigative experience, or a background in engineering or medical, is beneficial. Therefore, don't expect to enter a career in this field in any short period. You'll need to invest several years to gain the education and experience necessary to become a qualified candidate.

  • Choose the career path for the area of accident investigation in which you would like to specialize. Some of the most useful areas on which to focus are engineering, psychology, forensics or prelaw. If you don't already have a background or education in any of those fields, you'll need to get one. While most government and private agencies don't require a college degree, with the job competition today, they probably won't give much consideration to candidates who don't have one. Follow the lead of many seasoned investigators, who have also gained training from vocational schools or community colleges, taking courses on subjects such as collecting crime-scene evidence and its eventual analysis. Also, brush up on your communication and data collection skills by taking courses in those topics. You'll find them to be highly beneficial to career success, along with having an analytical mind. One additional note: Many employers consider a military background to be advantageous. If you have that experience, you are an even more well-rounded candidate for this career path.

  • Gain experience in your respective field. Want to work as an airline investigator for example? You should first seek experience in that industry. For example, pursue a career as a commercial pilot who is licensed to fly with an instrument rating or look for opportunities in an airline's safety department. For other areas of investigative experience, such as a traffic investigator, consider working with a state department of public safety. Similarly, if you want to work on marine accidents, gain experience at an offshore engineering consultancy firm.

  • Stay ahead of the latest technological advances in your field. Know the regulations that govern your industry. Having this knowledge will allow you to spot violations that can contribute to an accident. If you decide to become a mine investigator, for example, you'll need to become familiar with the conditions of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977.

    Because you'll need to record every detail in a post-crash report, you'll be most in demand if you develop several fields of expertise. As an airline investigator, for example, you'll need to be familiar with various aircraft types. A traffic investigator, on the other hand, should understand different factors that can affect an accident, such as coefficient of friction (drag factor) to determine speed.

  • Research the job market. If you become an airline investigator, look for positions with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). If you've pursued a background as a traffic investigator, pursue opportunities with police departments or insurance companies. If you have maritime experience, you'll likely find work with the U.S. Coast Guard reserve. If you have developed a background for mining accident investigators, you'll find the most opportunities with the Mining Safety & Health Administration (MSHA).

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