In the mid-2000s California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) audited police pursuit driver training programs throughout California. Among the study’s many findings was the conclusion that not only was ongoing re-training vital but that California’s basic pursuit training program for cadets was often wanting:
Initial review of academy training, as well as survey results from academies and review of other driver training programs, suggests that the minimum academy driver training standard may not ideally prepare trainees for the dangers inherent in emergency driving.
As we’ve noted before, according to POST’s report most California law officers drove home at higher speeds than they reached while being trained in “high speed police pursuit.”
Where Does Basic Police Pursuit Training Fall Short?
CA POST identified five primary shortfalls in California’s statewide basic police pursuit driver training regimen:
- loose and unclear standards
- too few total hours
- little attention to actual emergency driving (esp. high-speed speed driving, night driving, and negotiating around other vehicles)
- emphasis on recall instead of judgement
- too much variances in practical testing criteria and equipment
This looks like a fairly severe laundry list of shortfalls. But it’s not fair to give the impression that the basic police driver training done at the academies falls short across the board. Many existing training programs are highly effective at training some skills. For example, in surveying California law-officer collision data, Wolfe et al. found that “The relatively low occurrence of officer-involved collisions during rainy conditions may be explained partially by the fact that law enforcement officers have much more training on how to handle such road conditions compared to the average citizen [in California].” (source)
Traditional EVOC training (i.e., “closed-course” driver training, also called “emergency vehicle operations courses“) is very well suited to learning how to handle wet and slick road conditions, control a skit, etc.
The two most fundamental concerns flagged by CA POST are items #3 and #4 on their list: little attention to actual emergency driving, and an emphasis on recall instead of judgement.
Using Pursuit Training Simulation to Address Police Pursuit Driver Training Shortfalls
As we’ve mentioned before, it is very difficult to safely and effectively practice high-speed driving and use interference vehicles on an actual real-life driving course. Law-enforcement driving simulators (LEDS) were largely designed specifically to address these areas of concern. As Paul Hoff wrote in evaluating LEDS-based driving and pursuit training programs for the Texas Association of Counties in 2002, “The unique aspect of simulator-based training is that you can totally destroy a car in a collision, but with a click of the mouse you are back in business and no one is injured.”
In 2003 Utah POST augmented their existing EVOC-based basic police pursuit driver training program, adding two driving simulators. These were specifically designed to focus on “decision-making skills and maneuvers” (addressing shortfalls #3 and #4 noted above). Two years later Utah POST modified these simulators to eliminate foggy statewide standards and variance in testing criteria and equipment (i.e., shortfalls #1 and #5). Over the next 10+ years, 2100 Utah police cadets were trained using this system. As a result, Utah saw:
- 67% reduction in critical driving errors at intersections (a major factor in police injury and fatality crashes)
- 75% reduction overall in mistakes while driving real vehicles on the test track
- a 10-fold increase in officers’ awareness and correct execution of departmental driving and pursuit policies and procedures
There is clearly a case to be made for more police pursuit driver training. But there is perhaps a stronger case to be made for smarter, flexible police pursuit driver training programs, ones that pinpoint problem areas and invest time wisely in addressing them.
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