Nebraska State Patrol Flies Drones to Investigate Car Crashes Now

Aug. 9, 2021, 7 a.m. ·

Drone lays on a landing pad on the ground. It's red orange with black spinners. There's a white Nebraska State Patrol sticker on it.
Lieutenant Brent Bockstadter said one total station, the tool they formerly used to analyze car crashes, buys them 10 drones. (Photo Courtesy Nebraska State Patrol).

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The Nebraska State Patrol has purchased 18 high-tech drones to help analyze car crashes faster. As of Friday, Aug. 6, the drones are officially ready to help serve the public.

State Trooper Zech Rose controls the foot sized red and black Autel Evo drone while it hovers above the Husker Harvest Days site, west of Grand Island. Rose is one of 19 federally licensed drone pilots from the state patrol’s quick clearance program. Lieutenant Brent Bockstadter is the crash team’s program coordinator and said it typically takes them around two and a half hours to analyze a crash, but the drone cuts that time to about 45 minutes.

"Historically, we would be standing in the roadway and have to map and measure every single evidence point that we wanted to be able to use as our analysis in a scale diagram," he said. "We would have to make sure that we physically measured that point."

Drone hovers in the air, above a black car. A man in a yellow shirt and black shades holds the controller.
Investigator J.J. Connelly of North Platte is another certified drone pilot. All 19 pilots were certified and licensed last week. (Photo Courtesy Nebraska State Patrol)

Now, the drone flies a hundred feet above the ground, takes up to 150 photos over the span of a few minutes, and then software makes a 3D scene map. Instead of measuring in the middle of the highway, troopers can now do it through a computer screen at the office. The lieutenant said the drones will help them clean-up crash scenes and get highways open as quickly as possible, while still doing a thorough job collecting evidence.

"We're trying to balance both of those things to do the best job we can, but yet not frustrate the motoring public as well, to have to take a detour, or go around, or be stalled in traffic," he said.

After analyzing crashes that happened in 2019, Lieutenant Bockstadter said the drones could save Nebraskans, and commercial industries, up to $2 million dollars. The Iowa and Colorado State Patrols have started using drones in recent years too.