UM Hosts Annual Safety Fair

Event raises student awareness about dangers of impaired and distracted driving.

Coral Gables (September 16, 2013) — Extending her arms slightly outward, Janell Barnes tried to walk a perfectly straight line. But with each step, the 21-year-old University of Miami student lost her balance and would have surely fallen had it not been for Pedro Beltran, a corporal with the Miami Police Department, who offered her a supporting hand.

“This is harder than it looks,” said Barnes, wobbling with each step.

While her clumsiness was only temporary (the result of a special pair of goggles that simulate impairment by distorting vision), the lesson she learned is everlasting: even one alcoholic drink is one too many and not worth the risk of being pulled over.

Dozens of other UM students took that lesson to heart last Wednesday, when the University of Miami Police Department partnered with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to host a safety fair on campus that raised awareness about the dangers of impaired and distracted driving.

“This is no joking matter. This is how it really happens,” said Beltran, who staffs Miami PD’s Breath Alcohol Testing unit, or BATmobile, as student after student tried, unsuccessfully, to pass a field sobriety test while wearing the special goggles.

Other students picked up literature on the dangers of texting while driving.

“We’re targeting young people early, trying to make sure we educate them properly because many of them are just getting behind the wheel for the first time,” said Carlos Sarmiento, community traffic safety program coordinator with FDOT’s District VI.

For the past three years, Sarmiento’s district has been revving up its “Put it Down” campaign, traveling to local colleges and high schools to let teenagers and young adults know that emailing or texting while driving can be fatal. With a statewide ban on the practice set to take effect on October 1, getting the word out becomes even more important, he said.

“It’s a secondary offense,” Sarmiento explained. “You’d have to be pulled over for another violation to get ticketed. But we want drivers to just put it down, regardless.”

A driving simulator set up by AAA at Wednesday’s safety fair helped drive home that point. Sitting in front of a video display screen, students took turns behind a steering wheel, attempting to send text messages while keeping their eyes on the road. The results were not always pleasant—rear-end collisions and hit pedestrians.

At another demonstration, students strapped themselves into the Seat Belt Convincer, which simulates a car crash at 10 miles per hour. “It’s a jolt even at that speed,” said Sgt. Mark Wysocky, public affairs officer with the Florida Highway Patrol. “Imagine a collision at 30 or 40 miles per hour. That’s the lesson we want [students] to take away from this.”

The Coral Gables and South Miami police departments; Miami-Dade Transit, which showcased renderings of the pedestrian bridge that will be built over US 1 at Mariposa Ct.; South Miami Commuter Services; UM’s WalkSafe and BikeSafe programs; Pier 21; Student Health Services; ’Canes Emergency Response Team; and other student organizations also participated in the event.

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Wearing special goggles that help simulate impaired ability, a UM student attempts to perform the walk-and-turn field sobriety test while under the watchful eye of Miami Police corporal Pedro Beltran.

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