Accident Interviewing Techniques

Interviewing witnesses is one of the most important aspects of accident investigation, and it is often one of the most difficult. This task may be facilitated by an understanding of some of the basic techniques of interviewing. Key factors in these techniques are validity, reliability, purpose, planning, consideration of language used, use of pauses, and the knack of getting the witness to do the talking.

1. An interview is valid to the degree that the information gathered is a true account of the actual circumstances as they occurred. Validity will suffer seriously when the investigator is inept in his interviewing techniques, and elicits information that is not related to the real circumstances. The best advice in this regard is “stick to the point.”

2. The reliability of the interview is another point that must be considered. An interview is reliable to the degree that the same information obtained in the first interview will be obtained in subsequent interviews.

3. The unplanned interview tends to be a spontaneous give-and-take between two people. The low reliability of the unplanned interview may be raised by systematic planning before-hand. Planning should be in terms of general areas rather than in terms of a prepared list of questions. The areas into which the interviewer should plan to direct his inquiry will be deter-mined by the purpose of the interview. Area planning has the following advantages: it eliminates the tendency of the person being interviewed to answer yes or no to a prepared list of specific questions; it facilitates sticking to the business at hand and prevents getting into discussions of irrelevant subjects; and the interview is less stilted and rigid. The fewer the questions, the less the interview seems like an inquisition.

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