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Driving simulators: Integration is key in officer training

Utilizing simulation in a blended fashion with real driving is key to improving offer safety behind the wheel

Simulation — the “imitation or enactment, as of something anticipated” — has been around since man began to prepare for anything in the future. Whether it was hunting or fighting or war, we’ve continued to evolve our simulation methods and techniques. 

More than 100 years ago, pilots used simulation prior to taking a plane into the air and while mock planes with wheels to roll on the ground are nothing like the multi-million flight simulators of today, the purpose and result have always been the same: a way to learn and practice an event in a safe, monitored environment.

Despite the use of simulators in various professions, it’s a relatively new tool for law enforcement — and law enforcement driving simulation is the newest of all. 

Many of you who are reading this have never even been inside a driving simulator, but many agencies have embraced this training in an effort to reduce the danger their officers face behind the wheel. 

An Evolving History of Success
In 2008, the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training authorized an exhaustive study on their driver training program for law enforcement. While the study is multi-faceted and continues to this day, one of the concerns was their historical use of driving simulators and whether it was effective in reducing the collision rate of their officers. 

An analysis was conducted on both the training and driving records of sworn peace officers. The findings of the study were very revealing as to how we should consider training our officers behind the wheel.

The study revealed that officers that took emergency vehicle training in a car, on a track, had a four (4) percent reduction in their collision rate when compared to officers without any training. 

Meanwhile, officers that only had simulator training had a higher reduction in the collision rate of eight (8) percent.

But the best result occurred in officers that had a blend of both in-car training and simulator training. According to the study, the “nearly ten (10) percent reduction was statistically significant, suggesting that completing some form of in-service blended training is likely to reduce the chances of officer-involved collisions.”

It certainly should not be a surprise that the ideal training methodology combines both in-car training, which focuses on learning a skill set, and simulation training, which excels at teaching decision making. 

The San Diego Model
The EVOC Coordinator for the San Diego Police Department is Sergeant Kevin Rausis, and in recent years they have discovered a very effective way to implement simulators resulting in improved performance as well as increased efficiency.

Requiring 44 hours of training in their basic academy can be a challenge, but Sergeant Rausis says that simulation has helped them train more with each individual student and limiting the “down time” that is often associated with law enforcement driver training. The groups of students are broken into half and one set are taken to the track and the other to the simulators.

“We switch the groups back and forth throughout the week getting a mixture of real driving and simulation. The value of that has been tremendous” Rausis said.

A third element of classroom lecture is placed in the mix, which gives the students three different aspects in learning, all mixed together. The results have been almost immediate, according to Rausis.

“On day one we see our students using the radios, running plates and doing the things we see our veterans doing and they are doing them very well," he said. "There is no doubt that the mixture of training they are receiving has played a positive role.” 

The Utah POST Model
Sergeant Doug Larsen manages the driving program for the State of Utah and with major simulator companies housed in his back yard, he has always been looking for “best practices” in regards to how to use them. 

Both Larsen and Rausis use them in a progressive manner, starting off with basic driving and working their way to more complex scenarios but unlike Rausis, Sergeant Larsen incorporates the simulators in a one time, four-block, near the end of the road training.

“We use the sims after the students have been on the road for close to 30 hours and we focus solely on intersection clearing and emergency response driving” Larsen said.

“I can target areas in training that I cannot create on the road, so the use of simulation becomes necessary in an effort to give our students a well-rounded training experience.”

We are still developing law enforcement’s use of driving simulation, but with the examples we have seen in Utah and California one thing is clear: Utilizing simulation in a blended fashion with real driving is key to improving offer safety behind the wheel.  

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