Public Safety

Here's why school buses are crashing at a Marion soccer complex

Soccer fields become testing grounds for investigators

MARION — Usually a place for amateur athletics, the Tuma Soccer Complex became grounds Tuesday for crashing into a bus.

The Midwest Association of Technical Accident Investigators is holding its 2019 conference the first part of this week in Cedar Rapids. On Tuesday, the gathering of accident reconstructionists — most of them from law enforcement agencies — traveled to the soccer facility north of the city limits to focus on collecting school bus crash data.

Crash team leaders performed a number of tests on the donated school bus, including a manned pickup truck sideswiping a bus and a remote-controlled sport utility vehicle rear-ending it. Broadside impact and panic brake tests and even a bus flip were planned, too, though the remote-control system failed to flip over the bus.

Richard Yoder, a retired sergeant with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, who is co-hosting the conference, said the point of this year’s crash tests are to study how seat belts affect children in different school bus crash scenarios.

“The idea is to get all the data that we can from the impact of the crash, how (the dummies) react during the crash,” Yoder said. Each of the test dummies was wired to measure its response to the crash impact.

At the end of the tests, the Marion Fire Department planned to use the cars to train its crews on extracting people from inside badly mangled vehicles.

Conference goers will review the test results with the crash team, an independent contractor, on Wednesday.

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Dave Hallman, the crash team leader for the conference, said a number of devices were used to measure crash impacts Tuesday, including high-speed video cameras and accelerometers.

Data produced in crash tests and reconstructions can be purely for scientific research, used in civil cases or in proposed legislation, Hallman said. The data collected Tuesday could be used if, for example, legislatures wanted to look into mandating seat belt use on school buses.

After the rear-ending test, only the dummies wearing seat belts remained fully in their seats, Hallman said.

“A lot of (crash tests) happening, the school bus stuff specifically, has a lot to do with safety,” Hallman said. “So we provide data to say, ‘Here’s what we see if they’re belted versus unbelted’ and then they make decisions based on our data; they may not.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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