The Florida Highway Patrol hopes a Kevlar storage box will mean the difference between life and death on the roads for its troopers. Ford motor company has already outfitted FHP's fleet of Crown Victorias with special gas tank shields; after they were found to explode in certain rear-end collisions.
The defect has killed 15 police officers nationwide, including two in Florida. FHP took the safety precautions one step further in an effort to protect its troopers and the public.
In July of 1997, trooper Robbie Smith’s Crown Victoria was rear-ended and burst into flames. He was Lt. John Bagnardi's best friend.
The safety effort includes trunk boxes. A super-strong Kevlar panel in the back serves as an extra barrier to the fuel tank in a rear-end collision. Capt. Kenneth Spears says the box also forces troopers to properly store their gear, like shotguns and fire extinguishers that could become missiles in a collision.
“It can't be placed long ways, so that it is longitudinal, in a position to be pushed into the gas tank and possibly through the lining of the gas tank.”
“The trunk boxes will also protect us from an explosion; motorists out there who could accidentally hit a cruiser on a rain-slicked road or dark night.”
Ford already installed protective gas tank shields in all of FHP's Crown Victorias, but the state decided to spend an extra $340,000 to buy the trunk boxes for one more measure of protection.
Corporal James Gaskins says he feels safer knowing there's an additional barrier between him and an oncoming car.
“I think it's important for you to have confidence in all your gear and if this is making it more safer for me to be out on the road, stopping people by the side of the road, changing flat tires or whatever, then yes, it makes me happier,” says Gaskins.
It's a simple idea, but one that could save a troopers' life. In spite of the gas tank safety issue, FHP plans to continue using the Crown Victorias because they are among the safest police vehicles on the road.
FHP began installing the trunk boxes Friday in Orlando, Panama City and Tallahassee. It expects to begin installing the trunk boxes throughout the rest of the state by the end of next week.