Safety Behind the Wheel
with Travis Yates
Beginning a driver training program
As vehicle collisions have become the leading cause for officer injury and death, some agencies have started training as it relates to driving. This training is essential for the safety of LE personnel.
We often think about a training program in the traditional sense – cars on a track driving fast.
A training program should encompass a variety of activities - basic maneuvers, collision avoidance, class discussion, collision follow up rides, policy discussion and pursuit training. There have been years where I have only been able to incorporate one of these training techniques and there have been years where several different methods were used. The important thing is to do something. The talk of not having a facility or cars or the time just cannot cut it anymore.
As driver training begins in an agency, attention to detail becomes very important. There are several steps that an agency should take to begin a successful driver training program:
The department should have a sufficient amount of instructors in the field of driver training. Most states have a central location to certify officers and a basic instructor certification is usually a prerequisite. If the agency sends officers out of state to train, they need to ensure that their state will recognize the instructor certification. The Michigan State Police and Oklahoma Highway Patrol will routinely train instructors from across the United States and are both considered excellent instructor schools. Some agencies may have existing instructors. If they have not trained in a few years, it is important to ensure they receive an adequate update course.
How training is conducted is also important. An agency may have a top-notch facility and great equipment but if the class is not organized and conducted accordingly, it will surely fail. Training should revolve around the issues the particular agency wants to address. Particular attention should be placed on past collisions or driving errors and the course should be built from that. Another agency may have a successful course but that may not apply to everyone. Driver training is fluid and it should address current trends and issues.
Courses should always include a safety briefing and begin with basic maneuvers. As students learn, there are several other course types that can be added. Collision avoidance, skid avoidance, emergency response courses and pursuit courses are just some of the variety that can be used in driver training. One of the biggest mistakes in LE driver training is the teaching of speed. There are too many courses that incorporate speed as the primary teaching tool in a basic driving class. While driving fast is an obvious component of LE driving, it should in no way be the focus of a basic safety course. Courses should center on skill, technique and sound decision making.
Training facilities are nice for driver training but are in no way mandatory. One option is to only use a classroom setting. This is somewhat limited but will also be a benefit. Decision-making and attitude is a large component in LE driving. Both of those issues can be addressed in the classroom and research does show that officers can benefit from just classroom material.
Regardless if an actual facility exists, many agencies train in large parking lots. This can be just as effective and would require the knowledge to set up courses and cones. Smaller agencies with budget issues have used this method with great success.
To ensure the success of any training program, the department head must commit resources to the future. Driver training must be an integral part of the agency. Driving is a regressive skill and without regular, updated training, many of the skills taught will be lost with time. There are too many examples of a great driving course being given to officers that reduce collisions, only to see the course taken away and collisions increase within a few years. Ideally, training should be given to officers each year. This may require some time and resources but the benefit will be seen almost immediately.
The Broken Arrow (OK) PD recently completed an eight-hour driving course for each of their officers. The course was given twice to every officer over the last 24 months. The agency has seen a 40 percent reduction in officer involved collisions and their budget has seen a tremendous financial benefit due to the training that was provided to every officer.
In Part 2 of this article, specific driving maneuvers and techniques will be discussed along with a series of web links designed to assist agencies in building a driver training program.
Read Part 2