Police Driving: Learn Your Limitations

June 30, 2014
Let's be honest, most basic and in-service driving programs stink and LE could do a lot better job of properly preparing our officers behind the wheel. If you're fortunate to work for a progressive agency which has the facilities and allocates the funds and manpower to properly prepare you, thank your lucky stars!

I just departed the facilities of ITI -International Training Incorporated as part of a media trip on training and new products. Today's training was on emergency vehicle operations.  We did formation training which required that we kept a max distance of two inches front/back and side between six moving vehicles moving through a curving course at 15 mph.  ITI trains a lot of diplomats for foreign service and they've found driving in third worlds means a lot of packed vehicles on the roadway and learning these events at slow speeds helps drivers improve depth and spatial awareness as well as how to control the car.

We moved on to weaving in and out of moving traffic in a five car column.  With the lead vehicle moving straight down the centerline of a two lane roadway and maintaining a 15 mph speed, each car was instructed to keep a car and a half distance between vehicles.    The event started with the last vehicle accelerating past the 4th car and beginning to weave between each car.  Once the fifth vehicle passed, the 4th started passing, then the third and so on.  Once the 5th was lead, it took centerline position and slowed to 15 mph.  Each vehicle would accelerate and dart between moving vehicles at speeds around 40 mph.  It was not an event for the timid and shuffle steering as well as working the gas and brake pedals to safely maneuver was required.  Yes, there was contact and one vehicle was struck and spun, breaking an axle.  The purpose of this exercise was to learn evasive movement through traffic and based on the skills needed to control the vehicle while manipulating in/out of traffic, including curves, has direct LE applications.

We followed up this event with the infamous "J" turn.  Backing up at speed we were instructed via radio to "whip it!", whereupon we aggressively took the steering wheel from a 3 o'clock position counterclockwise, with our left hand to a six o'clock position without touching the brake.  As the car pivoted an aggressive 180 degrees, we slapped the shift lever to drive and hit the gas.  Not something I'd want to do on the street, but an interesting lesson in control, weight shift and acceleration and certainly nothing I’ve ever been close to doing in my LE driver’s training.

The last event was aggressive backing away from a threat.  Although we teach LE drivers to use their mirrors for more effective backing, to aggressively back away it's better to turn and look out the rear window, according to ITI training staff.

Demos were given on the PIT maneuver by ITI staff as well as vehicle ramming to avoid ambushes.  The ITI motto is "move," meaning a rolling car is a harder target than a stationary one, and driving though the ambush is the preferred tactic.

During the entire program IT instructors, many who are former or current Virginia area law enforcement, kept the students safe while wearing driving helmets and lap shoulder belts, with many cars having roll cages and improved harnesses.

LE Driving Compared

Compare this with basic driving curriculum in my state and basic police training conducted by many universities...

Cars used by cadets are rentals which completely lack sagely equipment.  Students have told me that they've used mid-size or even compact cars.  Instructors are admonished if students exceed 35mph or loose traction and spin their tires they will be removed as instructors.

Many events focus on backing up at slow speeds because, dang it, that's when cops cause minor vehicle damage.  Most of this training is conducted at some parking lot because most agencies don't have vehicle tracks or facilities to conduct realistic driving. The focus of all this basic training is not to prepare the student to survive a pursuit or emergency response driving scenario but rather to pass the practical test.  This is not to single out basic police driver's training for, the basic firearms program is as unrealistic and lacking as well.   And yet law enforcement officers killed in motor vehicle crashes exceeds officers killed by gunfire each year and has done so for years!


Oh sure, our employing counties and cities cry foul about the cost of such facilities and training ignoring the realities of what one officer's funeral costs or the millions a civil suit based on lack of training and an innocent civilian motorist or pedestrian's death. Driving instructors have run these same old, tired programs ignoring the realities and failing to improve or advance their training classes, even failing to go to advanced programs themselves.

Equally guilty is the patrolman and woman, who fail to wear their seat belts, drive too darn fast and believe, incorrectly, that their skills are equivalent to a NASCAR driver, when clearly they are not. But quite honestly how is an officer supposed to drive as recommended, below 80% of their capabilities, when all they do is slow speed maneuverability in training. Make no mistake, although I'm certified as a basic academy driving instructor, I don't consider myself a wiz bang driving instructor but, I've had the good fortune to do some realistic training and have benefitted from the experience.

Proper Training

No, you don't have to attend the driver's training programs at ITI but every cop on the street would benefit from the opportunity.  Let's be honest, most basic and in-service driving programs stink and LE could do a lot better job of properly preparing our officers behind the wheel.  If you're fortunate to work for a progressive agency which has the facilities and allocates the funds and manpower to properly prepare you, thank your lucky stars!  If you're with the rest of us, shame on our agencies, and maybe it's worth putting aside some dinero and attending a program on our own.  It is truly that important.

Most of my fellow students today were not law enforcement and yet they got more realistic training in one day behind the wheel at ITI than most cops and that's tragic.  When I told these civilians the realities of LE driver's training, they were aghast.  They wished you had it.  Question is, why don't our agencies provide it?

We know how important training is to officer survival yet we often only pay lip service to the realistic training each officer should have. And for that, we should be ashamed...

Check out International Training Incorporated which has been doing this kind of training as well as excellent firearms and other training programs since 1989.  They'll get you up to speed, or even slow you down when necessary, to save your and others lives.

International Training Inc.   www.g4siti.com

About the Author

Kevin Davis | Tactical Survival Contributor

Kevin R. Davis retired from the Akron Police Department after 31 years with a total of 39 years in law enforcement.  Kevin was a street patrol officer, narcotics detective, full-time use of force, suspect control, and firearms instructor, and detective assigned to the Body Worn Camera Unit.  Kevin is the author of Use of Force Investigations: A Manual for Law Enforcement, and is an active consultant and expert witness on use of force incidents.  Kevin's website is https://kd-forcetraining.com/ 

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