There are a lot of forces involved in a motor vehicle accident, so many, in fact, you would have to be a physics student to wrap your head around them. Fortunately for the four Absegami High School classes who were given a presentation on accident science by South Jersey Traffic Safety Alliance representatives Bob Clarke and Wayne Shelton on April 10, they are just that.
Absegami High School physics teacher Sean Swanson, who also brought Clarke and Shelton to the school last year, said he hopes the students' knowledge of the physics behind accidents will help keep them safe on the roads.
"They have dealt with these forces in class and other situations," Swanson said. "This brings it to a real-world setting where they see that these numbers mean something, and they can mean life or death for these students."
As traffic-safety specialists for the SJTSA, Clarke and Shelton travel around the region, examining accident scenes and conducting experiments to acquire crash data.
The presentation combines their findings from the many accident scenes they've studied, the math they use in evaluating a scene, and the safety tips they've discerned from their work over the years.
Clarke, who recalls when he was a high school student wondering how physics knowledge would help him outside the classroom, said that in giving the presentation he tries to stress the real-world importance of understanding the forces working in the world around them.
"I thought to myself back years ago, 'When am I ever going to apply it?'" said Clarke, who lives in Galloway Township. "You walk out the (classroom) door and think, 'What a waste. When am I ever going to use it?' But I want to show the kids that it is practical and all real-world stuff."
Clarke had the students complete several exercises, including analyses of how road conditions affect traction and of the forces involved in a high-speed collision, interspersing the math with video and pictures from accidents and accident recreations.
Absegami senior John Lee attended the last presentation of the day. He said he found the presentation eye-opening and pledged to maintain good safety habits.
"If you see one video from this, you can obviously tell one lone mistake or one slip-up could be your life or your friend's life, so that's not cool," said Lee, who lives in Galloway Township.
Clarke developed his talk a few years ago at Atlantic City High School and has presented it to high schools throughout Atlantic County and beyond in the years since. He has refined the presentation over the past two years thanks to a partnership with Swanson.
The pair met at Absegami's Back to School Night in 2011 when Clarke's daughter, Brielle, began attending the school. The initial presentation was rough around the edges, Clarke said, but Swanson helped him make it more relatable for high school students.
Because their presentation is one of prevention, it's tough to measure the impact Clarke and Shelton have on the students they visit, but Clarke said he's hopeful the students will think twice before putting themselves in danger.
"If they're in the car and they go to do something stupid, we hope that our presentation clicks in their heads and they say, 'Wait a minute, I remember that,' and they slow down," Clarke said. "That's what we hope."
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