Topeka Arms and legs flailed as the blue Chevrolet truck rolled over and again. To the children watching the demonstration at the Kansas Expo Centre, it seemed almost comical.
"Because it's not real life it seems funny," Lt. John Eichkorn of the Kansas Highway Patrol told the two dozen students watching Wednesday.
But vehicle safety, Eichkorn said, is no laughing matter. While the people in the simulator were mannequins, the message is real: Seat belts save lives.
The demonstration was part of "Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day," a national event designed to heighten awareness about motor vehicle fatalities.
Kansas Department of Transportation figures show motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in the nation among people ages 6 to 27, costing society about $150 annually in lost wages, property damage and health care payouts.
"This is really the No. 1 health issue in the state," said David Geiger, division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration.
Each year, nearly 42,000 people die on U.S. highways.
According to KDOT statistics, 78,128 accidents happened on state roads in 2000, with 19,469 of those involving injuries and 461 deaths. Since 1947, Kansas has recorded a high of 780 fatalities in 1969 and a low of 387 in 1991.
KDOT Secretary E. Dean Carlson said substandard road conditions factor into 30 percent of all fatalities. The state's 10-year, $13.9 billion transportation program is geared at improving road conditions.
The national safety campaign is geared at getting motorists to make small changes in their driving habits to reduce the number of deaths.
Wearing seat belts, skipping cell phone use, using child safety seats, staying awake and following the rules of the road can reduce accidents, Graves said.