Training an officer in any skill requires a controlled teaching environment in which the
officer’s experience is as near to reality as possible. Part of training is ensuring that officers acquire a working understanding and proficiency with their equipment so that they can do their job safety and effectively when the real world requires it.
In areas like defensive tactics and firearms, this is a fairly straightforward process. If you want to know how a baton feels when you swing it, then swing it. If you want to know how a firearm feels when it’s fired, pull the trigger. In each of these examples, these actions are achievable, predictable and repeatable. In other words, every time you swing a baton, you’ll always get the sensation of what it’s like to do so.
When it comes to vehicle training, the same can’t be said. This is due to the myriad active safety devices available on modern patrol vehicles. Traction Control and Electronic Stability Control (ESC), for example, are each designed to essentially protect the driver from their own mistakes by providing vehicle-induced dynamic solutions. However, the degree to which these devices intrude on the driving process are affected by many factors. So while 10 swings of a baton will result in the same basic sensation each time, 10 movements on a steering wheel to address driving conditions or avoid a hazard may—or may not—provide a repeatable result in real-world driving.
Because of this, it’s been hard in the past to provide a predictable training environment where officers could reliably, consistently and repeatedly feel the various active safety devices like ESC in action. It was difficult to train on what it was, how it worked, what caused it to activate and what sensations and control ramifications it provided. That’s not the case anymore.
If you haven’t heard of SkidCar, here’s a quick primer. The Swedish company Cedergrens Mek has been manufacturing SkidCars for more than 35 years for vehicles such as police cars, large trucks, fire trucks, SUVs and even Jeeps. It was developed after Cedergrens Mek examined traditional driver training methods and discovered the entire focus was on developing reactive skill sets that were perishable by nature, causing degradation in performance behind the wheel. As a result, they set out to develop a new philosophy on driving that focused on teaching a driver to recognize the available grip and control of a vehicle before getting into a situation that required critical car control skills. The result: The SkidCar training device.
Mechanically speaking, the SkidCar is fairly simple. It uses a second set of wheels to raise and lower the vehicle’s front and rear end. This minimizes the actual grip of the vehicle’s tires. A steel frame is mounted to the lower control arms of the front and rear suspension, and attached to each end of the frame are two outriggers mounted perpendicular to the vehicle. At the corners of the outriggers are hydraulic piston assemblies with small wheels. Each outrigger also has a hydraulic line that leads to the trunk, where it’s attached to a hydraulic pump assembly.
An electronic control line leads from the pump to the electronic control box inside the vehicle. The box has several control options, allowing the SkidCar instructor to individually raise or lower the front or rear outriggers, which in turn raises or lowers the vehicle’s tires in relation to the road surface. The outriggers are strong enough to raise the entire vehicle off the ground.
A New Philosophy
The basic thrust of SkidCar training is to concentrate on “grip, not slip.” But the focus recently has shifted toward addressing ESC and other active safety systems. According to Dane Pitarresi, President of SkidCar USA, they’ve been working hard at training instructors to drive technically correct rather than overuse the controls. In other words, instead of ham-fisting the steering wheel and stomping the pedals to create an imbalanced driving environment on the incorrect assumption that such moves demonstrate “performance driving,” instructors should focus on smooth inputs that produce results that are fast, quick and safe. These smooth inputs also make the driver much more sensitive to the information provided by the vehicle in various dynamic conditions.
The beauty of a SkidCar is that you can reliably replicate mild-to-extreme, dynamic vehicle conditions at a low speed in a small environment. As Pitarresi puts it: “Skidcar can duplicate conditions where drivers can learn and fail in a small area, at low speed (but not too low to maintain weight distribution) and in safety.” This last point is important because vehicles are one of the most hazardous environments an officer is exposed to. Training with minimum hazard is always desirable.
Another great benefit of the SkidCar: It allows departments to see exactly what they’re paying for in their vehicles and how to best apply it in the field. Pitarresi says, “We can easily expose the new technology and communicate why it was invented, how it works, and validate perceptions of what it means for performance.”
Example: Many new ESC systems activate braking force to one corner of a vehicle, not to slow it down, but to alter the cornering behavior to bring the front or rear of the vehicle back in line. For rookies, this can be a very alarming experience because traditional EVOC driver training never addresses that possibility. However, with a SkidCar, the officer can be taught what the system feels like, as well as what effect their inputs have. That last point is critical: Since these systems are designed to help save your butt in extreme situations, it’s important to learn how to drive proactively and smoothly so that they’re rarely, if ever, needed.
Your officers can’t be expected to reliably and successfully react to traffic conditions they’ve never experienced. Although basic EVOC focuses on fundamental driving skills and car control techniques, the fact remains that the curriculum in most departments doesn’t match the high level of technology found in today’s patrol vehicles.
A SkidCar can teach officers awareness of available grip under virtually any traction condition. It can also provide a regimented training protocol on understanding how active safety systems—like ESC, traction control and even anti-lock brakes—are induced by and correct driver behavior. As an agency, you wouldn’t issue an MCT to officers without training them fully on their capabilities, nor would you issue a rifle without a complete training regimen on every aspect of its performance. With patrol vehicles, it’s no different. A SkidCar is one of the best training choices available for officers to truly understand the vehicles they drive and how their inputs affect them.
For more information, contact SkidCar at www.skidcar.com.
EVOC Update: The training challenges of electronic stability control
By Dane Pitarresi, President, SkidCar Systems
“ESC” might soon mean more to you than just the escape key on the keyboard of the computer. Electronic Stability Control System (ESC) is a safety technology designed to prevent rollovers and loss of traction by keeping your vehicle in contact with the ground during dangerous situations.
ESC is installed in all new police cars and SUVs as of the 2012 model year. Training with new driver safety technologies must be included in current curriculum. When used in an EVOC environment where we know drivers and vehicles are often pushed beyond their limits, ESC can influence and change the expected outcome of driver inputs. Although each manufacturer has different detail operations of their ESC system, they all work within the same premise.
Accidents can certainly be prevented to a certain extent with an active safety system, including ESC, antilock brakes (ABS) and/or traction control systems (TCS). When a vehicle accompanied by ESC reads a complex situation, such as curves or sudden swerves, to avoid obstacles, it takes over and allows the driver a better chance to get through the situation, further improving the advantages of the ABS and TCS.
Whether recognized or not, many departments are grappling with the challenge of painfully outdated curriculum. Example: It’s been 15 years since the National Highway Transit Safety Administration EVOC driving handbook has been updated. Serious changes in driving techniques are needed to enhance this new ESC driver control and safety technology.
It’s plainly dangerous that many law enforcement academies reference all “skids” to be rear wheel in nature and refer to them as over-steer, fish-tail, power-slide and the rear-wheel skid. Push, plow or under steer (the front-wheel skid) aren’t even considered in the curriculum. However, if you walk through any municipal or police bone yard, you’ll see that the majority of wrecks span from the front to the back of the vehicle. Moreover, every vehicle in law enforcement operation today is designed from the factory to be prone to under steer or push or plow. Mismanagement of front-wheel grip is what usually happens first, and from there turns into a loose or over steer or rear-wheel skid.
With the new ESC systems, it’s almost impossible to get the rear to slide. But if you go fast enough, a driver of even the newest vehicle can make enough bad decisions to crash. Just look at all the single-car, loss-of-control accidents with the Dodge Charger. That car has ESC and somehow the drivers have still found many hard objects to run it in to.
If you drive technically correct with regard to the car’s grip, then ESC will never be an issue. Using the tried-and-true objective of training the driver to use the big three (vision, proper use of steering and using the brake for more than an anchor) properly, can not only meet your state’s standard of rear-wheel skid recovery or control, but will also train proper basic and advanced vehicle-control. A driver who learns to avoid the rear-wheel skid by properly controlling the front wheels of the car is a better driver. Period.
The most dangerous front-wheel skid takes total technical skill to overcome once it’s made. It’s the skid that creates that sick feeling in your stomach. It’s the skid where you get to see what you hit. It’s the skid that happens most often, but for some reason is rarely taught! We must teach how to drive technically correct in order to stay out of front- and rear-wheel skids in the first place.
ESC was designed to activate when mistakes are made by the driver. If drivers drive the car within the vehicle’s and their own capability, then this is all that can be asked. What is the fruit of technically correct driving? Higher performance and lowered risk of a loss of control event.
According to preliminary National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund statistics, 2011 was the first year in many that vehicle accidents were not the main cause of fatalities in law enforcement. Better driver training and safer vehicles could be contributing factors. The advent of ESC, combined with up-to-date driver training curriculum, will hopefully contribute to achieving the goals of Below 100.
ESC will prove its value in an industry that requires extreme vehicle operation in dangerous environments. When new firearms technology is released to an officer, training is required in different, and sometimes enhanced, capabilities of the weapon. The same care must be taken in training to operate these new vehicles to make sure the LE driver understands the different outcomes that can be expected. Please look at your current skid control or recovery training and realistically assess its value today. Well thought-out driver-safety programs are needed now more than ever.