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February 15, 2006

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Travis Yates Police Driving:
Safety Behind the Wheel

with Travis Yates

Beginning a driver training program

As complicated as police department training programs have become over the years, the basics are just as important.  An agency can have countless resources and support to conduct driver training but if they don't utilize the correct techniques, the training can not only fail but could make things worse.

Proper driving techniques should be the focus of any LE Driver Training Program.

Steering
 
If an officer maintains the proper hand positioning and utilizes the appropriate steering techniques, the weight transfer of the vehicle can be limited.  Sudden weight transfer, especially at high speeds, can result in losing control of the vehicle.  Steering is the combination of accessing the position of the vehicle and where the officer wants to re-direct it.  Steering combines hand positioning with hand movement.

The most common method of steering is termed shuffle steering.  Hand placement is generally taught at 9 and 3 on the wheel.  For comfort reasons, some courses have moved that to 8 and 4.  For many years, hand placement was taught at 10 and 2, but with the advent of air bags, that should be eliminated.  Light finger pressure should be on the wheel with heavier pressure from the thumb.  The officer should avoid crossing their hands by sliding the wheel in their hands to effect the movement.  This technique will prevent the officer from jerking the steering or placing too much input into it.  The vehicle must maintain stability to stay in control.  Improper steering can quickly lead to a collision.  When steering, officers should concentrate their vision on the path they want to travel.  Most drivers will steer in the direction they are looking.  Officers should look at the safe path of travel and steer towards that.

Braking

Braking can be separated into two categories:  Controlled & Emergency. 

Controlled braking consists of a steady and early pressure applied to the brake in order to bring the vehicle to a smooth stop.  The brake should be applied with the upper half of the right foot and the heel contacting the floor.  Left Foot braking should always be avoided and the old adage of "pumping" the brakes should be forgotten.

Emergency braking consists of the driver bringing the vehicle to a stop as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Training becomes very important when this occurs.

Braking around corners at high speeds and excessive braking can create many problems for the driver.  One of the most dangerous elements of braking is when the driver goes into a corner too fast and brakes abruptly while the car is in a turn.  This will likely create a weight transfer problem with the car as weight is being sent to the side and the front of the car simultaneously.  Often times tire traction can be lost and a skid can occur.  Anti-lock brakes have greatly reduced vehicle skids but it is still very important to teach the concept of straight line braking.  Braking should generally be conducted when the vehicle is going straight.  This is especially true during emergency braking.

Speed Control

The speed of a vehicle is controlled by acceleration and deceleration.  The rules for both of these factors are the same.  They should both be done in a smooth manner.  An officer should not slam on the accelerator to increase speed.  This action could likely cause the loss of traction or a skid.  Acceleration should also be in direct relationship as to the intended path of travel.  The wheels should be straight and the vehicle traveling in the correct path.

Skid Avoidance

The ideal method in dealing with a skid is to avoid it.  If an officer avoids abrupt steering and braking, skids will likely never occur.  Sudden braking and acceleration in turns along with sudden steering inputs will promote a dangerous situation for LE officers.

Skid Solutions

LE driving is unique and despite the proper techniques, situations can occur which place the officer in a dangerous situation.  There are three types of skids.  A braking skid occurs when one or more brakes locks up, usually during emergency braking.  A cornering skid occurs when the vehicle loses tire traction in a turn or curve.  This is generally caused from too much steering input or from excessive speeds.  A power skid is generally related to a vehicle being driven beyond its capability. It can be the result of excessive speeds or acceleration that is too fast.   A vehicle skid does not have to mean a collision or injury.  Officers should be taught techniques to recover from a vehicle skid. 

When a skid occurs, the officer should use rapid but smooth steering input towards the direction of the skid.  Once the skid begins and the back tires break friction with the roadway, an officer cannot wait.  They should immediately regain control of the vehicle by steering back into the skid.  It is possible that a secondary skid could occur and the officer should react in the same manner by steering into the skid.  Once the officer regains control of the car, they should straighten out the wheels.  Brakes should never be used to assist with a skid.  If a braking skid occurs due to the brakes being used, the officer should ease up on the brakes until they regain control of the vehicle.

Summary

As vehicle technology progresses and research continues, safe driving techniques will no doubt change.  It was just a few years ago that students were taught to brake with their left foot and pump the brakes.  Some agencies teach different techniques than are discussed here.  LE driving instructors must continue their future studies in an effort to give LE the safest driving methods possible.

Read Part 1

About the author

Captain Travis Yates commands the Precision Driver Training Unit with the Tulsa, Okla. Police Department. He is a nationally recognized driving instructor and a certified instructor in tire deflation devices and the pursuit intervention technique. Capt. Yates has a Master of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Northeastern State University and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He is the owner of www.policedriving.com, a website dedicated to law enforcement driving issues and the Director of Ten-Four Ministries, dedicated to providing practical and spiritual support to the law enforcement community. You may contact Travis at Policedriving@yahoo.com.






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