The information Steven Bowen, program director for the Office of Highway Safety, shared with Mason County Middle School students about car accidents and seat belt safety was invaluable.
However, his message was really driven home when he switched on a machine that simulated a roll-over accident with four dummies inside, two adult-sized dummies and two-child sized dummies. Of the dummies, one adult and one child were properly strapped in while the others were not. When Bowen switched the machine on and the car started to roll, the two dummies not restrained began to hit the ceiling, the door and, more often than not, were flung violently out the window. When the dummies came out, many of the students gasped, some exclaimed with shock, but no one could ignore the message: seat belts save lives.
"It made me freak out, I'm thinking that it's really bad because I never wear my seat belt," said seventh grade student Samantha Comberger. Comberger said she would start wearing her seat belt now and intended also to share the message with her family and friends.
Nancye Fritz, coordinator for the Mason County Youth Service Center, said the school contacted the Office of Highway Safety to bring in the simulator. Another presentation will be given to high school students in a couple of weeks to show the effects of driving under the influence, Fritz said.
Bowen explained the roll-over simulator shows what could occur if a car were travelling at approximately 20 mph.
"We don't drive that slow very often," he said, but roll-overs can happen at that speed, especially on back roads if a car were to go over an embankment. However, on Kentucky 9 or an interstate where cars travel much faster, Bowen said the severity of the accident can be much worse.
Bowen gave several reasons for the use of seat belts, including the likelihood of the students being involved in an accident at some point in their lives, even if they themselves are good drivers.
"There's all kinds of people out there and you might be the best driver in the world and always pay careful attention in everything that you do, but you know all it takes is somebody talking on the cell phone, sending a text message or they may be drunk, under the influence of alcohol, they may be high ... there's all kinds of factors out there," he said. "Somebody's not paying attention and boom, you're in a wreck."
Bowen said the average American driver is involved in one wreck every seven years.
Bowen also explained why air bags cannot be relied upon. Like any mechanical device, he said they can be subject to failure. Even if they're delayed, a person who has slumped over the steering wheel and who gets hit with the airbag can be seriously injured.
In Kentucky, it is a law that everyone wears a seat belt, Bowen said. The penalty for not wearing a seat belt is $25 per person, with the fine assessed to the driver.
"Don't be the cause of your parents ... getting a ticket because you weren't wearing your seat belt because guess what, they're probably going to be pretty mad at you," Bowen said.
Bowen said a common excuse for not wearing a seat belt is that people do not want to be trapped in case their car goes into a river or creek or catches fire. However, Bowen stressed the person needs to be alive and conscious in order to react in those situations and without a seat belt, they may not be. Also, it only takes a few seconds to remove the seat belt, giving most people time to get out of the car.
The number of crashes that involve fire or water are low, as well, Bowen said. Less than 0.5 percent of all accidents involve fire or water.
Some people say they forget to put on their seat belt, Bowen said. Others say the seat belt is aggravating.
"Three seconds out of your day to keep from being a vegetable the rest of your life," Bowen said. "To me it's nothing to ask. That's a no-brainer."
Eighth grade student Tyler Lippert said the demonstration was "pretty cool," because it made the message real. Seeing the presentation, Lippert said he intends to start wearing his seat belt.
"You could risk your life by not wearing a seat belt," Lippert said.