Traffic safety drives home the point
By Staff Sgt. Peter Dean, 107th AW/PA
/ Published May 24, 2010
Niagara Falls, New York -- May 24, a picture perfect day by most standards, the sun shining bright, not a cloud in the sky and the temperature in the 80's. A beautiful day to die, five people including an infant laid lifeless as a result of a teenage driver who was too preoccupied by a text to realize the light was red. Although only going 30 mph the four door sedan that she was driving with her girlfriend as a passenger plowed into the driver's side door of an SUV propelling it and its occupants, a mother, a father and their daughter into a violent roll that ultimately ended their lives.
After impact a 911 call could be heard, shortly thereafter local law enforcement officials and emergency responders arrived on sight. Within seconds the scene was evaluated. One team worked to free the occupants of the sedan using the Jaws of Life to remove the roof. The other team, with the use of air bags lifted the SUV of an unrestrained victim who was ejected and now laid from the waist down trapped under the SUV. One by one the victims were removed from the wreckage covered with a white sheet and loaded into the medical examiners wagon. After the officers ensured the wreckage was removed and the road was reopened to traffic they had the horrific task of knocking on the door and notifying the parents and the families that they will no longer spend another holiday, another birthday or another single minute with their loved ones.
Fortunately this was just a scenario that local law enforcement officials along with Calspan, a transportation research group set up to demonstrate the catastrophic effects that low speed impacts can have. Over a period of eight days more than 3500 high school seniors from Western New York and Canada attended the annual Traffic Safety Program held at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
In its 15th year, along with the simulated crash, students attend briefings on seatbelt use, rail road crossings, and the effects and consequences of drinking and driving. In a hands on exercise that demonstrates the effects of texting and driving, students drive through an obstacle course cell phone free then repeat the same course while sending and receiving texts.
"They always hit cones while texting," said Deputy Greg Schuey, Niagara County Sherriff.
According to Sheriff James Voutour, Niagara County Sherriff Department, statistics show that in the last 14 years DUI crashes have declined, due to several factors including tougher enforcement and through educational programs.
"We like to think this is a part of that," said Sheriff Voutour. "There's no way to measure the effects, we obviously think it works," he added.
According to Mr. Fran Chiarella, senior mechanical engineer, Calspan, putting together an operation of this magnitude takes planning and a lot of cooperation from numerous agencies such as CSX, New York State Department of Transportation and New York State Police. Along with state and local agencies private companies such as Thrifty and Schmidt's Collision, Niagara Falls were instrumental in the success of this event.
"A lot of people donated a lot of time," said Mr. Chiarella. "You're not going to reach everybody, but if it makes a difference for a few people, that's monumental," he added.
Niagara County Sherriff Deputy Jill Herrington, crash narrator reminded students that until emergency responders arrived, an actual accident scene would be chaotic.
"If you're in that vehicle, and your best friend is next to you dead, you're going to be frantic," said Deputy Herrington. "It's not going to be a calm scene," she added.
The lessons learned will afford the students the ability to make educated decisions while they are behind the wheel or a passenger in a vehicle.