Few things are worse than suffering through the same training that you have already been through year after year. Driver training is no different. Little things such as adding new looks and features to the cone courses, changing the decision-making scenarios, rotating in-car instructors so officers get different perspectives and tips on driving are all small things that can freshen up driver training.
Below are a few drills the Hillsborough Police Department use in training to give its officers additional in-cockpit tools to navigate the dangerous world of police driving. This same training approach is used with a program designed for police driving instructors to give them ideas to bolster their department’s EVOC programs. This annual two day Slower Is Faster seminar is sponsored by the North Carolina League of Municipalities – Risk Management Services (the insurance provider for over 250 police departments). These tactics not only make officers better drivers, but also help officers either combat or avoid adrenaline dump and the dangers that come with it when driving to a call. Many departments that have sent an instructor to this training over the past three years have seen a significant decrease in collisions. Whether it’s a desire to add variety or focus on critical tactics, the following are some in-car drills your agency may want to consider adding to its training toolbox.
Decision Stations — These stations require officers to decide where and what to do based on signs, obstructions, or other means. It’s critical to randomly change these decision points. For example, officers may have to choose whether to go left or right through a lane or to properly clear an intersection depending on the signage or other factors. It sounds easy, but if that decision feature is at the end of a slalom or when exiting a curve, it can be a challenge. Decision stations require officers 1) to look ahead or turn their head to see what’s next and avoid surprises, and 2) to slow down and enter features under control. Things get ugly on course when these tactics are not implemented — hence making good learning moments.
On-course Distractions — These test officers’ ability to look ahead, spot hazards, maintain a sufficient reactionary gap, and avoid target fixation. An inflatable deer moved by ropes, a stuffed dog attached to a remote control car, inflatable clowns to replicate pedestrians, and other items are simple ways to make training more challenging. The purpose is training to spot trouble in advance rather than relying on a last-second Hail Mary to avoid a collision.
Scan and Plan — This drill requires officers to run the course in reverse without any practice runs. We have learned it really forces officers to look ahead. Officers also have to use commentary driving or tell the instructor where they are looking. The instructor also drives and talks to demonstrate how far to look down course. Just talking complicates the process and surprisingly impairs the driving somewhat, so it is good to practice. This has been a popular drill as officers report it raises their awareness of where they’re looking. A good training tool can be carefully placed strips of painter’s tape across the lower portion of the windshield to cue or require drivers to look ahead.
Radio-dispatched Scenarios — In these scenarios, officers have to respond to an evolving situation. It’s common in this drill to see major mistakes, such as officers driving into a lane blocked off by cones, going the wrong way, completely missing features on the course, as well as sliding and mowing down cone walls. The drill demonstrates how driving can significantly degrade in these situations. It’s eye-opening how often officers — even in training — will continue a pursuit or continue driving fast to a call when the situation clearly doesn’t warrant it. For instance, due to adrenaline and multi-tasking, officers in this training frequently continue the pursuit even after finding out the driver being pursued was a 15-year-old who had taken a parent’s car, rather than the initial report of an armed car-jacking. Quite simply, stress impairs our decision-making ability — we react instead of decide. As the old adage goes, “you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to your level of training.”
Regardless of how you or your agency decides to do EVOC training, adding variety keeps it interesting and allows officers to hone their driving and decision-making skills under pressure.
Eric Peterson is the town manager for Hillsborough (NC) and has worked in municipal government since 1987. He’s instructed and coordinated the Hillsborough PD’s annual driver safety training program since 2000, as well as the N.C. League of Municipalities annual “Slower Is Faster” police driving safety seminar for police instructors/trainers (in car and classroom training) across North Carolina since 2013. He is a member of ALERT International. Eric has 21 years of competitive motorsports experience and 10 years of professional instructing experience. In 2014, he won the Sports Car Club of America Pro Solo Championship Series and was the SCCA Solo National Champion in his respective classes. As town manager he has extensive experience in budgeting, performance measurement, and human resources.
Duane Hampton has over 20 years of law enforcement experience. He is the Chief of Police for the Town of Hillsborough, North Carolina and previously served with the City of Durham, NC as a police lieutenant. He is a certified law enforcement driving and firearms instructor through N.C. Training & Standards. He instructs in Basic Law Enforcement, Instructor and In-Service training programs. Duane is one three lead instructors who designed and teaches in the N.C. League of Municipalities annual two day “Slower is Faster” police driver safety seminar for police instructors and trainers. He is on the Board of Directors for ALERT International (Association of Law Enforcement Emergency Response Trainers) and is also the southeastern representative for ALERT.
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