LAKE MARY – David W. Farrell recalls one recent case, involving a young woman who loved texting. Like a lot of other teens, she seemed to be constantly sending text messages.
And the biggest problem with that was she decided to send text messages over her cell phone at the wrong time: while she was driving a car.
She also did it while driving 70 miles per hour on the highway.
“She ended up in a vegetative state at 19 years old,” said Farrell, a trooper with the Florida Highway Patrol.
The other teens in her car didn’t survive the crash that resulted when the driver took her eyes off the road to send those text messages and lost control of the car.
“In a rollover situation, everything you have in the car – soda, beer bottles – now all of a sudden becomes a missile flying around the car,” said Farrell, an FHP auxiliary background investigator. “Three people killed, all for a stupid, careless mistake of texting while driving.”
Farrell now works to educate the public about just how dangerous it can be to avert your attention away from the highway while operating a motor vehicle, whether it’s for texting, changing the radio station, eating food, or anything else that doesn’t involve driving — and nothing else. Farrell brings an automobile rollover simulator to public events to show what happens to unrestrained riders. As the auto flips several times, the passengers inside – dummies – go flying, smashing into the windshield, being thrown from the auto, being crushed under it.
“The first rollover, the first landing on the sides is going to break the windows,” Farrell said, during a recent demonstration in the parking lot of the Orlando Marriott Lake Mary. “These are very violent crashes. After a crash, our job is to investigate that crash.”
Investigators start by plugging a laptop into the car, he said, to download information from the computer inside the vehicle.
“I can tell from your computer the speed you were going, were your lights on, and so on,” Farrell said. “All of that is stored in your computer at the instant of your crash. A lot of times, you’ll have people who were severely injured, people who were killed. We have to rebuild the entire scenario based on the skidmarks and everything else at the scene.”
How fast the car is going at the time of the crash, he said, impacts how many times the vehicle will roll over.
“It depends totally on the speed at the time of the crash,” he said. “A rollover at 40 miles per hour, you may have one or two. At 60 to 80 miles per hour, you may have 10 rollovers. Generally what happens in a crash is you lose control and your car begins sliding. That energy has to be displaced, so that’s how you lose control. The higher the speed, the more violent the crash is.”
There are a variety of factors that can cause people to lose control. While people in northern states worry about icy roads in the winter, Farrell noted that “We have what they call Florida ice. When cars leak oil within the first 10 minutes of a rain storm, that water and oil mixes and becomes very slippery.”
But most often, he said, it’s a result of human error – as an example, the case of the teen who was texting and driving. Farrell is a restraint specialist and will educate people on how to safely secure not only themselves, but also their children’s car seat, which also needs to be strapped into the car.
“You can go to any State Highway Patrol office and ask for a restraint specialist, and we will tell you if your seat is adjusted properly,” he said. “If you can’t afford a car seat, we’ll give you a car seat.”
And the good news, he added, is that since Florida lawmakers voted to require all Florida motorists to wear a seat belt, usage has soared. Previously, not wearing a seat belt was a secondary offense, meaning highway patrol officers had to pull over a motorist for a different offense rather than for not wearing a seat belt. Now it’s a primary offense.
“We’re seeing about 87 percent to 89 percent of the vehicles on the road are belted in,” he said. “Six years ago, it was down to 40 percent.”
Those who don’t bother putting on their seat belt, he added, will get pulled over – and fined.
“I stop them and that’s a nice strong ticket now, from $120 to $150, depending on the county,” he said. “You’re going to get a nice ticket and you’re going to go before the judge.”
Anyone who thinks seat belts are ineffective in a bad rollover, he said, are dead wrong.
“In the years I have been in Highway Patrol, I have not had to cut a dead person out of a car seat,” he said. “That is an urban legend. Seat belts do save lives.” To learn more, call Farrell at 407-532-6797 or log on to www.fhp.state.fl.us.
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