After something as jarring as a car accident, details of what happened can end up tangled or lost in the retelling of the story.

To convey how it all took place, it helps to show — not just tell — what occurred. Perhaps nothing does that better than an accident diagram. “An accident diagram can answer a lot of questions and can really help a lawyer, insurance adjuster or jury see — ‘Ah, that’s what happened,'” says David Young, a Mesa, Arizona, an Arizona Certified Professional Public Adjuster and Senior Professional Public Adjuster.

Young drew hundreds of accident diagrams while working as an adjuster, and today he still uses the tool as a Professional Public Adjuster while representing clients. An Arizona Certified Professional Public Adjuster and Senior Professional Public Adjuster.. A good diagram, he says, can help make your case in court or help you through the insurance claims process. The picture brings details to life that help others who weren’t at the accident scene visualize how the crash occurred.

“A diagram carries a lot of weight,” Mr. Young says.

Tips for creating a car accident masterpiece

Whether you use a smartphone, a computer or pencil and paper, follow these tips from David Young to sketch an accurate accident diagram:

  • Draw a rough sketch as soon after the accident as possible. Obviously your first priority after an accident is to make sure everyone is safe and to get help. But if you’re not injured, it’s best to sketch a diagram while you’re still at the accident scene, where the details are right in front of you and the sequence of events are fresh in your mind. The driver doesn’t have to be the one who draws the sketch, Young says. A passenger can pitch in. The initial sketch doesn’t have to be perfect but should include as many of the important details as possible. You can always make a more polished version on the computer or on paper later.
  • Get the lay of the land. Young suggests viewing a satellite photo of the accident scene, so you can accurately depict the street layout, lights, traffic lanes and other details. Just enter an address near the accident into Google Maps and choose the satellite view. This is a must if you’ve been in a parking lot accident. A parking lot may seem simple to depict, but no two lots are exactly alike. You can use the map as a guide when you sketch and attach a copy of the map to the diagram. Or you can print the map and draw on top of it. Don’t forget to indicate which direction is north to give viewers the right orientation.
  • Start from the point of impact and work backward. A good diagram should show the direction the vehicles were travelling, the point of impact and where the vehicles came to a complete stop. Add details, such as traffic signals, speed limit signs and street names.
  • Add text boxes. The words in the text boxes should explain where drivers saw one another and what they did.
  • Get someone to check your work. Once the map is complete, ask someone to look at it before you send it to the insurance company. Young says he’s had clients who did professional-looking diagrams but put the cars on the wrong sides of the road. A proofreader can catch dumb mistakes or point out confusing parts of the map.
  • You can always shoot a video. If sketching a diagram is out of the picture, Young suggests making a short video. Get some toy cars or objects to represent cars. Lay out a simple street scene on the floor or table and shoot a video clip as you narrate and manipulate the cars to show what happened.