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Keys to safe police driving often overlooked

I recently began working nights again.  One of the first things I noticed was very troubling. It isn’t as easy as it used to be for me to read signs, license tags, or to overcome the glare that is common at night. While I have taken steps to not let this affect my safety, it got me thinking how important one’s eyes really our in our profession. We are quick to check our eyes if our range scores don’t match up but how important are those same eyes behind the wheel of the car? Studies suggest that most motorists do not maintain their eyesight as it changes and approximately one-third of the motoring public has become so bad that there is no doubt serious driving patterns have emerged.

I am fully aware what the comments below this article would say if I suggested (as doctors do) to get an eye examination every two years, but just for the officer safety ramifications alone we should consider it. Would it not make sense to care for our eyes in the same manner we care for everything else in law enforcement? We do not hesitate to manage our cardiovascular health because we know the importance it plays in our profession. We maintain our mind in law updates and policy changes because it is imperative that we do so to be an effective officer. If that is important, how much more important are our eyes?

The same eyes that describe a suspect must be able to quickly read a street sign during a pursuit or judge the distance of an obstacle while driving at night. While I could go into several paragraphs on how to manage your eye sight or check to see if your vision is impaired, I will leave that up to you and your doctor. What I do want to discuss is just how important your eyes are to you when you are behind the wheel of the car.

You Drive Where You Look
All of us have probably done it. While driving down the road, you see something that catches your attention — it may be a possible suspect or it may be something attractive. Regardless, you look. If your eyes linger a little longer than normal, your car drifts that way and you do one of two things. You realize it and suddenly snap your eyes back to the roadway or you strike a curb or another object. Have you ever stared at a large pothole and wonder where your taxes go? Be careful because you may need a new tire if you stare at it too long. This phenomenon has a scientific basis and regardless of how much training and driving we do, we will drive where our eyes look.

Looking Ahead
In Law Enforcement Driver Training, the term “Look Down the Road” is used on an almost daily basis. Students that look right at the hood and below will find out real quick that cones happen to just pop up right in front of them. It is obvious in training that you really do “Drive Where You Look.” If you fixate on a cone or a curb, you’re likely to hit it.

Drivers should scan in front of them as far as they can, not fixating on an object but looking ahead, preferably where you will be in 8-12 seconds.

Peripheral Vision
The car three seconds ahead of you is not the most important thing to you. Peripheral vision will take care of that vehicle. What is important is what is happening four to twelve seconds ahead of you. To make certain you are looking ahead, instructors will either draw a marker line half way up the windshield or cover the first half of the windshield, ensuring the student must look at the top half and thus down the roadway. This is important and will take practice if it is not already being done.

While looking ahead takes on a supreme importance on a driving track, drivers do not always have the luxury of doing this on a consistent basis in traffic. A proficient driver can look down the road, gather information and then look elsewhere for potential threats. Drivers should develop the ability to use informative gathering glances without fixing their eyes on a particular item. In other words, your eyes should be scanning the environment ahead and around. Moving your eyes prevents target fixation. Scan your vision ahead, looking side to side. As you approach intersections, scan down each street. As your eyes keep moving you remain alert. How about the cars around you? Cars in front represent your vision being blocked. Scan your eyes through them, underneath, to the side and even through their window, so you can see ahead of them.

Vehicle Dynamics
The farther ahead a driver looks, the more they scan, the less they fixate on targets, the smoother the driving will be. Smoothness is a direct translation from the eyes to the hands to steering and to the overall dynamics of the vehicle. Smooth vehicle dynamics equal a safer driving environment.

The S.I.P.D.E. system of driving is one of the best known and easiest to adapt. You will also notice how much of this system involves your eyes.

Search: Drivers should conduct a systematic search of their driving environment by scanning. The primary focus should be what is in front of the vehicle but the situations happening side to side and all around are also important.
Identify: A driver should identify possible hazards.
Predict: If a hazard is identified and the conditions of that hazard remain, the driver should forecast what may happen
Decide: Once you have predicted what will happen, the driver should decide what to do and a course of action.
Execute: The driver should carry out what they have decided utilizing their skills to maintain the safety of them and others on the road.

Training for Improvement
Science and technology have enabled us to improve our eyes beyond what has ever been imagined. Athletes have been using techniques to improve their visual acuity for some time and most of us can do some things to improve ours for law enforcement driving.

In my next article I will discuss some of those.

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