Two people were killed after being ejected from their vehicle during an accident in front of South Aiken High School on Thursday morning – then they were returned to the vehicle and thrown from it several more times.
The “victims” in this case were life-size dummies that were part of a demonstration by the S.C. Highway Patrol, Aiken Driving Academy and the South Aiken High chapter of Distributive Education Clubs of America on the importance of seat belt safety.
To demonstrate, the Highway Patrol brought its rollover simulator, which replicates a rollover accident and shows what happens to a human during such a crash.
An adult dummy was secured into the driver’s seat of the simulator, and a child-size dummy was belted into a car seat. The simulator was turned on and spun around like a rotisserie, but the dummies remained inside. Troopers then unfastened the safety belts and turned the simulator on again, and, after a few rotations, both of the dummies were thrown from the windows, into the air and onto the ground at the students’ feet.
Lance Cpl. Judd Jones said the machine simulated a rollover occurring at 15 mph.
About 1,000 students were brought out in classes to watch the demonstration throughout the day. Jones said that young drivers ages 15 to 24 make up one of the smallest percentages of drivers, but the largest percentage of fatalities on the road.
As of Thursday morning, 691 people had died on South Carolina roadways this year, including motorcycle accidents and pedestrians. Of those, 501 had access to seat belts, and 240 weren’t wearing them.
“Not a lot of them knew that was going to be their day, their time,” Jones said. “They might have done something differently. They might have stayed home. There are a lot of people that’d still be here today if they took the time to put that seat belt on.”
Some students snickered as the dummies were thrown from the simulator and landed in a pile on the ground, but Jones said it’s no laughing matter.
One of the biggest issues law enforcement has with young drivers is that they don’t buckle up because they don’t think “it’s cool,” or think “it can’t happen to me. I’m invincible,” he said.
“That’s the attitude a lot of teenagers take when it comes to putting on the seat belt,” he said. “Don’t have the attitude that it can’t happen to you. So far, 691 families are not going to see their loved ones for the holidays.”
Lauren Scott, president of DECA at South Aiken, said the organization’s focus this year is on traffic safety.
“A lot of kids this year have gotten in wrecks, and last year,” she said. “If you go into the school, you can talk to a bunch of kids and almost all of them will tell you that they have wrecked at some point in their lives.”
Scott is one of those students.
“The day after I announced we were planning this, we crashed,” she said of a wreck she was in with some friends.
Scott said she wants more students to take driving and safety seriously.
According to Steve Deibel, founder of Aiken Driving Academy, Thursday’s event was part of an initiative called Drive Safe Aiken.
“It’s a community initiative to help our young people understand that you have to slow down, wear your seat belt and not text and drive,” he said. “They have the lowest seat belt use of any group. Speed is their No. 1 violation, and texting and driving is the No. 1 distraction. The key is being able to get them to see and understand that wearing your seat belt saves lives.”
If more people saw that, many more could avoid getting a knock on their door from a state trooper, Jones said.
“When you knock on that door, that’s person’s life is gonna change forever,” he said. “The hardest part of my job is notifying a family that their loved one isn’t coming home, especially a young person just starting their life.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard. He is a graduate of Clemson University and hails from Williston.