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SUV intentionally rolled for research



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TOOELE -- A vehicle rollover accident in Tooele County Tuesday morning was captured on camera. No one was hurt because no one was in the car. It was part of a study to learn more about vehicle rollovers.

"We're involved in accident reconstruction," said Ronald Woolley, who runs Woolley Engineering Research in Provo. "The only way you can do that is to create an actual accident."

Woolley says no one else in the country does the work his company does. They roll cars in a real-world, real-time scenario to study exactly what happens.

Their test Tuesday morning took place on the old Pony Express Trail road near Faust, in Tooele County.

"We'll pass this on to biomechanics. We'll pass this information to design engineers. They're interested in building better safety equipment for cars," said Woolley.

The Utah Highway Patrol is also interested in the information. A team of accident investigators went to the test site so they could actually see a rollover.

Most of the time, they arrive after the crash and have to rely on evidence to figure out what happened.

"This is one of the rare opportunities we get to be there during the accident to see firsthand what the vehicle dynamics are and what happens in a crash," said Lt. Alex Lepley of the Utah Highway Patrol. "On large accident scenes, there is a lot of evidence out there. You have to know what to pick up and how it all gets put back together. It's a really critical phase of the investigation."

Engineers rigged the test SUV so it can be released by a controller. It's towed by a larger vehicle. Once the vehicle is released, computers tell the steering wheel to turn left, then hard right, resulting in a rollover at 75 miles an hour.

The crash is captured on two high-speed cameras from different angles. This allows engineers to see exactly what happens, where debris goes and where the impact zones are.

In today's scenario, the vehicle flipped 8 1/2 times, went back across the road, and landed on its roof.

"Any time you're doing a test like this, you never know what you're going to get," said Alan Asay, an engineer with Woolley Engineering Research.

Engineers want to show how violent rollover crashes can be with just a simple turn of the wheel.

"In this particular case, it's a very simple recipe for a very tragic outcome," said Asay, "We're hoping that it will bring an awareness to not only the public, but it'll also bring an awareness to other officials involved in industry, as well as the government, to help us protect ourselves."

Engineers would also like to see driver education programs use their video to teach drivers about the dangers of turning hard, resulting in rollovers.

Their information is also used by car design engineers to find the best places to put air bag sensors.

E-mail: acabrero@ksl.com

Alex Cabrero

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