Device shows importance of seat belts

Published: Saturday, April 26 2008 12:39 a.m. MDT

Greg Willmore and Blaine Robbins of the Utah Highway Patrol collide Friday as they demonstrate a device, built as a senior project by Weber State University students, that simulates a 5-mph collision.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

As if death or dismemberment wasn't enough of an enticement to wear a seat belt, Weber State University students have created a teaching tool to help influence increased use of restraints while driving or riding in a car.

Eight students have spent nearly a year conceptualizing, designing and building the seat belt convincer — an outreach tool for the Utah Highway Patrol that vividly illustrates the importance of wearing a seat belt.

"It has helped us improve ourselves and have some real-world experience to apply to our resumes as well as better, and actually save lives in Utah," said Curtis Nye, student design team captain.

"The Convincer" features two separate single-occupancy carriages atop a 26-foot flatbed trailer. The steel frame carriages, which bear a resemblance to Jeeps, have drive trains that allow them to collide with each other at a speed of 5 mph.

"Typically, wrecks happen at 30-35 mph and if it's tugging at you this hard at 5 mph, you can then imagine how hard it would be in a crash," Nye said.

The action mimics previous versions of a similar teaching tool, but is the first to feature separate carriages that can collide head-on.

Divisions within the state's Department of Public Safety provided $15,000 for the project and have reviewed the design, offering input to the student design team throughout the project.

"We wanted to take on a new challenge," said Cameron Swaner, one of the manufacturing engineering technology students involved in the project. He said their idea built upon previous models but featured original design and fabrication concepts.

The group saw room to improve upon earlier versions of The Convincer. They wanted the latest product to look more like an actual car, rather than just seats in a box. The group will hand the machine over to UHP sometime this week, including documentation for safety officials to build additional Convincers.

Swaner said computer models created in different software programs allowed the group to arrive at a decision to use a drive train, rather than the gravity system employed by past convincers.

The new version has been one of the most complex senior projects students have attempted at WSU, said faculty advisor Kerry Tobin.

"This project has allowed eight individuals with eight different sets of talents to come together and share their capabilities in a way that has allowed all of them to shine," Tobin said.

The trailer base, custom built by Wells Cargo and provided to the students at cost, can be pulled by a half-ton pickup truck. Other costs and services required to complete the model were provided by various local businesses.

"This has been our lives for the past year," Nye said. "It will be a sad day when we have to turn over the keys to the UHP." However, the end result — enticing kids to use their seat belts more — he said, will be far worth the effort his team has put into The Convincer.

Despite all the emotion tied up in their yearlong project, Nye said it's good that it will be put to good use.

"Whatever we can do to get the message out there that seat belts are important," Nye said. "I think that's a very worthwhile cause."


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

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