By Robert Raheb
There has been a big push for safer vehicle operations for years. The latest push has been on seat belt use and has begun to succeed in getting more of our emergency service workers (EMS) and fire suppression members to buckle up.
But why is there still no push for a national driver training curriculum encompassing all aspects of driving, as exists for every other part of the job? To have a program that will really instill good driving behavior and decision making on and off the job, you must consider adopting or adding these components to your existing program or use this as a guide to develop a program from the ground up.
A Rose by Any Other Name
Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC); Driver Training, Chauffer School–it doesn’t matter what you call it as long as you teach the fundamental principles of vehicle and road dynamics, evasive maneuvering, and laws of the road in a nonemergency and an emergency response setting.
Playing by the Rules
Having an academic policy that spells out everything for the student and the instructor helps reduce stress and builds credibility for the program. A typical policy should minimally explain what the passing criteria are for the class, the types of maneuvers students will be evaluated on, and how each maneuver is graded, and should include written exams.
Other areas to consider are dress code (i.e., uniform of the day; if civilian attire is worn, then no open-toed shoes or sneakers, and so on), attendance, classroom conduct, safety issues, and course of action for violating any of them. Have students sign a receipt that they received and read the policy and place it in their class folder.
You Can’t Tell the Players Without a Scorecard
Who are your instructors? What credentials do they possess to teach driver training? What is their attitude on driving? An old chief of mine, who was not a proponent of driver training, would always ask, “How hard could this be? The gas is on the right, and the brake is on the left–end of class.”
Most states or insurance companies offer train-the-trainer EVOC programs. Do not settle for a statement from the chief saying, “You’re the one with the least number of accidents, so you’re our new driver trainer.” Research, study, and insist that you and your fellow instructors get training. No one teaches fire or EMS classes without first becoming a state-approved instructor; don’t settle for less when it comes to driver training.
So Now I Have the Box, What Do I Put in It?
It is important to include the Triangle of Training, which consists of the components of knowledge, skill, and judgment, and that you adhere to the strictest set of rules.
There are a lot of canned presentations that can be bought or found for free on the Internet. They are usually decent but may not always meet your needs, and they will become obsolete quickly. Another option is to make your own lecture. Just a few of the topics to include are the following:
· vehicle specs
· dynamics and physical forces of the road and vehicle
· department guidelines on vehicle operations and maintenance
· state vehicle and traffic laws (VTL), including due regard and notice of approach
· use of lights and siren
· roadway command
· intersection analysis
· tactical vehicle placement at the scene
A quick 10-question pretest before the lecture consisting of sample department of motor vehicle questions may be useful in helping the student to identify weaknesses. At the end of the program, the student should be tested with an exam that covers the material.
The available area and staffing will determine what you can do to develop your course. Some skills will not require a lot of space and still have a positive impact. Basic skills help students develop their depth perception, spatial judgment of where the vehicle is in relation to their surroundings, along with mirror use and proper steering and braking techniques. A simple cone course can be set up as individual maneuvers or a circuit. Include the following:
· diminishing clearance
· lane change
· 150-foot alley
· backing garages or loading-dock maneuvers
These cone scenarios should be driven both forward and backward. Enhanced maneuvering should be done only with vehicles equipped with an instructor brake or other control and with vehicles that have been inspected and serviced on a more frequent basis than field units.
Enhanced skills help the student understand how to control and correct the effects of vehicle dynamics when placed into an evasive maneuver.
A simple circuit course can consist of an evasive pylon serpentine, left and right high-speed turns, a divider to help with reaction time, some form of switchback, and an evasive wall.
Time all maneuvers, and score on a point system. Enhanced skills don’t require a lot of speed–20 to 30 miles per hour is more than sufficient. By “tightening up” the maneuvers, the student must work harder to produce the same effect as if traveling faster. Enhanced maneuvers should be done in two modes: first in silent mode, then with the siren engaged to show the effect it has on the driver.
Now that we ran students through the first two training components, they possess the knowledge of what to do and the skill of how to do it, but they are still lacking the judgment of when to apply it. That is where simulation can make a big difference in having a program that merely satisfies liability concerns versus a program that actually reduces collisions, mortality, and morbidity.
Simulation training enables instructors to put students in a low-frequency, high-risk situation that requires them to adapt to changing traffic conditions, determine the proper course of action, and execute that action.
Most departments fail to train properly in the use of lights and siren response; most students learn how to enter an intersection against the red light and left of center when they are responding for the first time. When a mistake is made, it is unforgiving; you cannot take it back.
Simulation training enables students to experience real-world events in a virtual world that is safe and forgiving. For example, simulation training can place a student into a downhill drive in the rain and then create a brake failure. It can also put students into the middle of a mass-casualty incident in which they must determine proper staging and vehicle placement, along with relaying the proper information to incoming units and dispatch. All of these things help a student to develop cognitive and judgment skills in determining the proper course of action.
Psychologists have studied how people determine a course of action when presented with an unpredictable event. They have found that people with more experience in like situations will be faster and do better coming to the right conclusion than those lacking in experience. The reason for this is called “Recognition Primed Decision-Making,” which allows an individual to immediately retrieve data from experience and bring it to the forefront of the brain without having to weigh all the options. Simulation training gives students experience before they need it.
An academic policy, trained instructors, a well-developed curriculum, and simulation training to develop experience, will enable your department to see measurable results in the field.
Be safe and drive as if your life depends on it.
Robert Raheb is a retired Fire Department of New York (FDNY) lieutenant and an EVOC instructor. His instruction using driver training simulators led to a 38 percent reduction in intersection collisions in the FDNY-EMS. He serves as the emergency response specialist for FAAC, Incorporated, which makes professional driver training simulators.