Article December 28, 2000
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Scoping in on safety

Black boxes have long been used to record airplane flight data so officials can learn what went wrong following an accident or equipment failure. Now, engineers at North Carolina State University are using blackbox technology to improve the safety and performance of another, more earth-bound vehicle—cranes.

“Our technology monitors a crane operator’s movements and provides a built-in safety alarm that warns him if an unsafe move has been made or if a load is nearing a threshold where damage and accidents are likely to occur,” said Dr. Leonhard Bernold, associate professor of civil engineering and director of N.C. State’s Center for Construction Technology & Integration.

The technology used pressure sensors, installed at critical parts of the crane, to measure loads and forces being exerted on the crane. If a load nears a critical threshold or the operator makes a nonstandard move, the alarm sounds and the data is stored automatically in a black box embedded in a computer in the crane’s cab, from which it can be downloaded for later review and evaluation.

Lies, lies, lies

People will lie to avoid punishment. A finding from a report from Hawaii indicated that drivers in crashes will overstate their use of seat belts and understate their use of alcohol to police, but are more truthful with their doctors.

Dr. Karl Kim of the University of Hawaii at Manoa used a linked database of 369 police crash reports and hospital records to study the “lie factor” in crash reporting, according to AAA’s Progress Report newsletter. On examining the records of drivers admitted to a hospital after crashing, he found that police reported a seat belt use rate of 88% while hospitals recorded 60%. For alcohol the situation was the opposite: Police reports showed an alcohol use rate of 8%, while the hospital rate was 26%.

Emergency room patients are routinely tested in Hawaii for blood alcohol to prevent drug interactions. Medical personnel also can observe patterns of injury that indicate whether or not the patient was wearing a seat belt.

While both sexes lie, males lie more than females; 92% of males and 85% of females reported belt use to the police, even though the hospital-determined rate for both sexes was 60%. Lying about belt use also is worse at night, on weekdays and in urban areas. Lying about alcohol use is worse on weekends, according to the report.

Corruption collapses bridge

A Communist Party official was sentenced to death and 12 others to prison terms ranging from three to 13 years following the collapse of a bridge in China. The collapse of the three-year-old bridge in January outside Chongqing killed at least 40 people and injured 14, and was called one of China’s worst accidents blamed on shoddy construction.

Lin Shiyuan, 37, was sentenced to death by the No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court in Chongqing. Reports said Lin was accused of accepting $12,000 in bribes to award the building contract for the bridge to a childhood friend.

Duan Hao, the director of a local construction design institute, and Fei Shengli and Li Mengze, who took charge of the construction, were sentenced to 10 years each in prison and fines ranging from $24,000 to $60,000 per person. They were charged with causing a serious safety accident. Liu Zejun, who supplied pipe steel for the bridge, was sentenced to 13 years in prison and fined $36,000.

Hair-raising ride

A three-year-old girl who clung to the rear of her father’s truck for nearly 12 miles as the vehicle reached speeds of up to 85 mph reportedly just wanted to go for a ride and was having fun until her father hit the main road.

The girl was not injured in the incident thanks to a passing motorist who flagged down the Ford Expedition driven by the father about 20 miles north of Santa Fe. The man was taking his four other children to Pojoaque Elementary School and drove 10 to 12 miles before they were stopped by Connie Romero.

Romero was on her way to work when she spotted Chelsea hanging onto the latch handle and windshield wiper, with her feet planted on a ridge above the license plate. She honked and flashed her car’s lights, but the truck kept going. She called state police and sped past the vehicle on Route 502 until he finally stopped.

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