About a dozen people stand huddled in the rain as a white sedan speeds towards them. At the last moment, the driver slams on his brakes and the car skids to a stop, leaving a strip of rubber on the pavement and smoke billowing from its wheel wells.
The spectators spring into action, hurrying towards the car with clipboards and measuring tapes.
They are students in a course run by the Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Services (CARS) of the RCMP. Most of them are RCMP officers, but there are also two officers from the Cape Breton Regional Police and two from the Medical Examiners' Office.
They are all people most likely to be called to an accident scene.
"It's the boots-on-the-ground course for all investigators that routinely investigate car crashes," said Sgt. Chris Romanchych, one of the course instructors.
"It also provides the foundation for the expertise that we have for the more serious and fatal injuries."
Preserving the evidence
Part of the training is to teach first responders arriving at an accident to be careful not to destroy evidence the CARS team will need to figure out what went wrong. The training is offered up to twice a year.
"When we arrive at a collision scene, we're going to do a quick walk-through the scene," Romanchyck said.
"We want to know what kind of evidence is there — if there are tire marks, if there are gouges, debris."
All morning long, on an abandoned stretch of runway at Canadian Forces Base Shearwater in Eastern Passage, N.S., the vehicle practices different speeds and manoeuvres, all designed to give the students different simulations to study.
A device called a shot marker is attached to the car's rear bumper. Every time the driver slams on the brakes, the device shoots a piece of chalk into the ground, leaving a mark to help find the spot where the brakes were first applied. The length of the skid mark helps determine the speed the vehicle was travelling at the time of the accident.
More complex investigations
Romanchyck is one of three full-time investigators stationed in the province. They're dispatched to the most serious accidents and work to assist regular officers in their investigations.
Romanchyck said accident investigations have grown more complex in recent years, leading to longer road closures.
"We want to open those highways as quickly as we can, we want to reduce the wait times of the people that are stuck in the lines," he said.
"But the reality is that takes time, because we only have one chance at collecting the evidence."
Seatbelt use still a problem
Despite decades of education and stiff fines for violations, Romanchyck says seatbelt use is still a problem. He said CARS investigators responded to 100 serious accidents in Nova Scotia last year. Half of those, he said, involved people not wearing seatbelts.
"That's a lot of death on the highway that could be prevented."
Romanchyck said CARS investigations can help principle investigators determine whether the drivers should face criminal charges.
"But in the case of a death it also gives closure to the family," he said.
"It lets them know what happened at all avenues of the investigation so they can be at peace to know what has happened."