Driving Skills are Perishable Skills

We spend a lot of time in law enforcement training for high risk activity, and a good part of that time is spent on use of force issues. In fact, even if your department does almost no training, there's a better than even chance that what you actually manage to do is use of force-related. When I was a baby cop, just out of the academy, I worked for an agency that had literally no training program, but we still managed to go out to the range every year to do firearms "training."

Most of us now work for agencies that do some sort of defensive tactics training, and that often involves handcuff or baton training. In many departments we are required to maintain current first aid and CPR certifications. And, of course, we still go out to the range for firearms "training."

When you think about what we do in relation to training for high risk activity, you'll realize that there is a heavy emphasis placed on acquisition and maintenance of motor skills. Practicing takedowns, CPR, or handgun reloads all involve motor skill development. We all know that motor skills are perishable, and that if we don't practice them, we will lose the ability to do them, or at least to do them "automatically"--that long sought "muscle memory" that we all crave.

Why, then, don't we train for driving? Or, at least, train with the same vigor that we train for use of force? After all, driving is certainly a high risk area for law enforcement officers, and it obviously involves the use of various motor skills. And, if you really think about it, we spend a lot more time driving than we do in the use of force. We drive for hours at a time, while a use of force incident--the actual use of the force--is usually over in a few minutes, or even seconds.

Many administrators list two primary problems when it comes to their reasons for not doing driver training: lack of time, and wear and tear on the equipment (cars). These are, of course, both serious concerns. However, neither will work as a defense when your department is trying to defend its lack of training. It's well established that departments that undertake activities that have a significant potential to cause harm (be it physical or constitutional) have an obligation to manage the risk of that activity, and an important element of that management of risk is to train.

Some administrators will cite the fact that their people drive all the time as their reason for not training, "We get lots of practice on the job, so we don't really need to train," goes the refrain. In fact, that argument is not wholly without merit. The fact is that most officers do get a significant amount of practice driving their vehicles. So, the very reason that you must do the training is also one of the reasons cited for not needing to train.

Huh?

We're already spending time, and putting wear and tear on our vehicles, just by doing our jobs. Actually, departments can use this as an element of their training program. In order to do so, they need to assure that officers are doing their daily "practice" driving the right way, and that it's being monitored as any other training program would be. By doing this, they can get credit for all that on-the-job training that's going on already.

First, departments need to have at least one in-house driving expert, i.e. a trained driving instructor. Once that is accomplished, that expert can conduct a driver training program for other members of the department, or members can be sent to a driver training program off-site. When department members have completed training, a monitoring instrument, similar to a DOR (Daily Observation Report) used in an FTO program, can be used to allow supervisors to track and monitor employees' driving performance on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Periodically, supervisors should go along on "check rides," similar to those that pilots undergo, and the results should be recorded. Annually, or more often, the instructor should do the same, or at least perform spot-checks.

Part of the check ride should be practice on things like cornering, braking, and parking, as well as other driving fundamentals. This is where the department's driving instructor can really use his or her creativity to develop methods for measuring and tracking performance.

The ongoing training program should be supplemented with roll call training and training memoranda, as well as occasional reviews of the department's policies, and periodic legal reviews. Of course, officers' participation in all these things should be adequately documented.

A program like this can really pay off in many ways. Beyond bolstering the defensibility of the department's driver training program, it will also be an ongoing reminder for the officers as to the need for care and professionalism in their operation of department vehicles.

Your people are already practicing their driving on a daily basis. Why not make sure they're doing it correctly, and then get credit for the training and practice that your department is already paying for?

Stay safe, and wear your vest! (and Buckle Up!)

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