Driver Training and Safety Education in Fire Departments
Apparatus “Road-e-o” Climaxes Course of Instruction in New York Fire Department’s Motor and Pump School
Editor’s Note: One of the most serious problems facing the fire service today is that of the prompt, uninterrupted response of fire forces in answer to alarms for fire or other emergencies.
Already handicapped by delayed alarms, shortage of manpower and other drawbacks, the fire service is finding critically important response jeopardized by the ever-increasing traffic of all kinds on our thoroughfares.
In the effort to do their part toward alleviating this dangerous situation, many of the nation’s fire departments have embarked on intensive driver training and accident prevention programs.
Among these departments is New York which is, as most of us know, the largest organization of its kind in the world. To keep its great fleet of “rolling stock” functioning at peak condition is the joint responsibility of those who drive and operate the equipment, and those responsible for its maintenance and repairs, the huge New York Fire Department Shops.
The story of the Shops has been previously been told in detail in FIRF. ENGI- SEEKING. Here is the story of the effort being made to train and educate the drivers and handlers of that huge fleet of vehicles upon which response of its fire fighters depend. For those who like statistics, that fleet presently numbers 221 pumping engines; 127 ladder trucks; 5 rescue, 4 searchlight, 6 water towers and scores of other vehicles, a fleet that covered over 2 million miles of travel last year responding to and returning from the 75,512 alarms and emergency calls which it answered.
Many improvements have been made over the years to facilitate response by reducing the number of accidents and delays due to driving errors and other mishaps. One of these developments was the formation of the N.Y.F.D. Accident Control Program back in 1948.
Good idea as it was, nevertheless little ir. the way of comprehensive driver training was undertaken until the present Fire Commissioner, Edward F. Cavanagh, Jr., added to the department’s Motors and Pump Operators School (until then the high point of the program) the Safe Driving Clinic and Eehind-the-Wheel Training Program.
This enterprising program was placed in charge of a Deputy Chief of Department (Thomas P. O’Brien), with one Acting Captain and seven Lieutenants assisting.
FIRE ENGINEERING believes it is time to tell the story of this department’s program of accident prevention through training of its personnel. Lieutenant Thomas D. Ryan, who has been closely connected with the operation, was given the task of preparing that message. This is his account.
To Lieutenant Ryan, and to departmental photographers Lieut. Ray Hellriegel and James Heffernan, who took the pictures, go our special thanks. Also, of course to Commissioner Cavanagh and Chiefs Edward Connors, Assistant Chief of Department, Bureau of Personnel and Administration, and Thomas O’Brien for their personal interest and cooperation.
This is a big and comprehensive story. It will be continued in our October 1955 number; at its conclusion, the acknowledgments will be included in full.
FOR some time past, progressives in the field of firemanship training have realized full well that the Fire Service has contributed more than its share to the national picture of deaths, injuries and damages due to vehicular accidents. But all too few have gone beyond this realization and taken steps to appreciably alter this situation. Surveys show that some type of driver instruction is carried out in the majority of municipal departments, but few of them have a comprehensive and coordinated training program for drivers and pump operators. In the smaller departments training on a planned basis seems to be virtually non-existent. In firemanship training courses the accent is placed on operations at fires or what to do when the apparatus arrives at the scene. Such training, however, is pointless if the apparatus never arrives, due to an accident which could have been avoided had the proper emphasis been placed on driver training.
One noteworthy exception to this situation is the City of Los Angeles which has set up an admirable program under its progressive fire administration, employing officer personnel as driving instructors to supervise and guide the drilling of chauffeurs by company officers. with both groups aided by a Training Division which also does research on the subject and issues printed material for the guidance of all members. A plan, such as is hereinafter described, was undertaken during the past year in the City of New York but some phases of it are still in the formative stage. Accident reductions in both cities have substantiated the value of this type program. A recently released yearly report of this department from its Accident Control Bureau, shows an overall decrease of 14% in apparatus accidents, while accidents to apparatus while actually on the move showed a 20% decline. Admittedly, many other factors are involved in this improvement, but undoubtedly the driver training program, including the use of testing devices, was a most important contributory factor.
Like the general public, those of us in the Fire Service are aghast when the picture is highlighted by a particularly horrible accident (See cover of FIRE ENGINEERING, August. 1954) with its aftermath of the tabloids depicting a small child accepting a hero’s medal for his father—such award being made posthumously. Deaths and injuries are common enough in our fire operations without adding to the total by accidents to apparatus while responding to or returning from alarms and even by accidents between fire apparatus. Even in cur recent memory we have seen these and similar headlines in the various news publications:
“Dayton, Ohio: Chief’s Car and Aerial Truck in Collision. One Dead, Eleven Firemen Injured.”
“New Haven, Conn.: Deputy Chief and Fireman Killed, Scores Injured, Pumper Wrecks Chief’s Car.”
“New York, N. Y.: Rescue Company and Aerial Truck Collide. Two Killed, Nine Firemen Injured.”
For a time there may be talk that something should be done about such incidents, but after a brief interval they gradually sink into the limbo of our memories and are accepted as “just part of the job.” Invariably the newspapers depict the apparatus as “speeding to an alarm,” but the truth of the matter is that in too many instances the company was returning from an alarm under conditions wherein there was no excuse for excessive speed, since they were in service via radio. It is no excuse that ours is an emergency service and we must expect to pay some penalty for such. While it is true that we have some license, due to the nature of our work, we have no right to abuse the privilege.
Another side of this picture shows that safety engineers and specialists in universities, delving into every aspect of motor vehicle accidents in their efforts to reduce deaths and injuries, seem to have an apathetic outlook on this particular phase. While individual departments keep records of the number and type of injuries, etc., for their own information, and some even break them down into their different causes, there is no pooling of this information for mutual benefit.
Widespread inquiry into authoritative sources could elicit very little statistical information as to what part fire apparatus plays in our national picture of death and injury on the highway, insofar as frequency, cost and causes of such accidents are concerned. Indeed, one safety expert, in conceding he had nothing on this tonic, gave as his opinion that fire apparatus accidents seem to be “sometimes spectacular but actually very few in number and importance on a national scale.” Interestingly enough, in his own city an investigation showed that there was an average of over one reported fire apparatus accident every other day, with a yearly toll of over forty men injured and one killed.
The records of individual departments show additional high costs in repairs and maintenance due to major or minor vehicular accidents but it is tacitly understood that such records do not include many others “taken care of” in quarters in-order to avoid official investigation and censure. Frequently, sheer luck spells the difference between these minor accidents and a real tragedy.
Present Programs Inadequate
Most, but not all departments require that Their chauffeurs possess drivers licenses issued by the State Motor Vehicle Bureau before they are permitted behind the wheel of a piece of fire apparatus, but this in itself is a negligible recommendation. It merely shows that a man has qualified to drive his own car or a commercial vehicle by proving his worth in at best a light passenger car. Not even the most optimistic individual would deny the existence of a wide gap between such a qualifying test and the transition to a 240 H.P. aerial truck or pumper, racing against lights and traffic, with siren screaming and mind intent on facing some unknown and possibly dangerous situation. Even in handling a chief’s car, although the vehicle type is the same, the situation is entirely different from pleasure car driving.
Today, nearly all states require applicants for driving licenses to pass a vision test, written test and a road test, but in two states a license is still granted upon the mere paying of a fee. Without seeking to detract from fire apparatus chauffeurs as a whole, the truth of the matter is that many of them hold licenses obtained in the days when there was no written or actual driving test required. State licenses, as a rule, are reissued without any visual or physical examination and many fire departments are also guilty of neglect in this common-sense, periodical check-up.
In many cases the chauffeur, like Topsy, “just grew” into the job — in rural districts, perhaps, because he was the local garage mechanic, and in the larger, even metropolitan areas, because he was “good at motors.” Furthermore, it has been found that in many departments the task of training chauffeurs is turned over to an individual whose sole qualification is that in his day he was an excellent chauffeur, or the fact that he is an officer. While both these factors may be assets, they are not in themselves any assurance of good instructorship.
Trained Instructors and Planned Instruction Needed
“Learn By Doing” is a pedagogical axiom deeply rooted in the training processes of firemen but it does not endorse an individual getting into the driver’s seat, accepting the responsibility of his own and his fellow firemen’s lives and attaining some degree of accomplishment by learning to drive “the hard way.” The result of such methods will proabbly be damage and injuries. New members should have the benefit of detailed instruction in a driving school, with ample opportunity to become completely familiar with the apparatus in an atmosphere of safety and with the distraction of passing traffic eliminated. Following this, they should be gradually “broken in” on company apparatus by driving it back from alarms—in the daytime at first, then at nights, and not under adverse weather or road conditions.
As in other areas of firemanship training, effective instruction in driver training and safety education presupposes four basic steps or procedures:
- Adequate preparation by the instructor and setting up a practical procedure for “putting over” the lesson This step also embodies creating a sincere interest among those to be instructed.
- Presentation by the instructor of the information by means of lectures, demonstrations, illustrations or discussions.
- Application by the members by putting into actual practice, step-by-step, the work as outlined and demonstrated by the instructor. This step requires close supervision by the instructor.
- Checking or testing, wherein the instructor determines the participant’s ability to apply the instruction given by testing him in the actual performance of driving. Misimpressions or faulty performances are detected in this manner and may be clarified at this most opportune time. All four of these basic instruction steps presuppose an adequately trained instructor and a carefully selected group of candidates.
Generally speaking, when setting up a Driver Training Program the problem resolves itself into two phases:
- Training new members to drive fire apparatus.
- A “refresher” or checking course for those members already assigned to the job of driving.
Under ordinary conditions the first part of the program can best be administered through the medium of a driving school in a set-up such as is hereinafter described. Such a procedure has definite benefits both from a safety as well as an efficiency standpoint. The second part of the program can be administered ac company quarters while the company and its members are “in service” to respond via radio.
The problem of training personnel in this field rests jointly on the shoulders of the company officers and those officers constituting a corps or board of driver training instructors. Such a group might well be incorporated in the Division of Training. They should be carefully selected for their background and ability to serve competently, and thoroughly trained by one of the agencies specializing in driver training. They should, then, be organized into a unit or group whose job it is to set up a program tailored to the needs of their particular department.
In the incipient stages of developing a program, guidance should be sought from the various agencies which have specialized in this field and have substantiated the effectiveness of their training programs by marked improvements in accident and injury rates.
At the present time over forty colleges and universities devote part of their curricula to this area of training. A complete list of these educational institutions, which are members of the National Committee for Fleet Training, may be procured from the Institute of Public Safety. The Penn State University, State College, Pa. A complete list of other kindred agencies, both public and private, who are similarly interested in traffic and safety, may be found in “Man and the Motor Car,” a publication of the Association of Casualty and Surety Companies. All of these agencies are available for consultation and guidance and most of them, it is felt, are willing to train and qualify members as instructors who, after a suitable period of orientation, will be able to set up programs for their own departments.
In large municipal fire departments, it might be advisable to detail officers exclusively to this work. Such a highly specialized group could well be used on Accident Investigating Boards and perhaps assigned to the task of responding to the scene of serious accidents to secure facts at first hand while they are still “warm.” They could then analyze them in their true light and have a complete picture ready for the official investigation. Following such inquiry, they could take whatever ameliorative or retraining steps would be indicated in cases where either driver negligence is shown or where the accident could have been avoided through proper action of the driver.
In the smaller departments, it might Drove more practical to have this training conducted by one or two officers who would cover an entire area. Departments operating under a State or County coordinating, or mutual aid, plan would definitely benefit from such a procedure. Another opinion advanced and perhaps worth considering is to have the manufacturer, when delivering a new piece of equipment, include instruction not only on the operation of the pumper or aerial truck but also on the proper driving of it. This could be done through the medium of attendance at a duly established drivers training school or by having only accredited driver training instructors break in men on new apparatus. Their trained instructors would obviously be fully conversant with the individual aspects of their equipment.
Besides conducting a training program for new drivers, the Board of Instructors should visit each company in the fire department at regular intervals to conduct a “refresher” course for those men already qualified as drivers, and at the’ same time provide guidance for the company officer. However, this latter group should first be trained through the medium of lectures and demonstrations in the Company Officer School. Subsequent to such training, the Company Officer should have the benefit of guidance materials compiled as a result of research by the Board of Instructors assigned to the Training Division. As a result, the Company Officer can readily incorporate such instruction in the list of topics covered in his daily drills. Such a move should go a long way towards insuring that the driving skill of company personnel is continually up to established standards. Preventive maintenance of the apparatus can be tied in with both types of instruction, with special emphasis on mechanical failure due to poor driving habits and lack of proper inspectional procedure.
Selection of Candidates
Experience has shown that the best constructed vehicle and the best me_____hanics cannot compensate for poor driving habits. It is an established fact that a good driver is an efficient driver— the product of careful selection and competent training, constantly and properly supervised—and that good drivers are made, not born. Professional drivers with the best road records have learned the wisdom of driving “defensively,” i.e., operating their vehicles with such care that, no matter what other drivers may do, they will be able to protect themselves and not become involved in accidents because of the mistakes of others. Such does not mean “guessing” what the other driver may do.
Furthermore, many accidents or instances where vehicles must be placed out of service are too readily attributed to defects in the apparatus or to bad driving conditions, whereas the truth of the matter is that more often it is the direct result of driver failure, either in operation or maintenance. Studies show that of thousands of accidents a mere 15% can be ascribed to mechanical failures such as failure of equipment or datnage due to defect in the road. The remaining 85% of the accidents are caused by human failures such as carelessness, incompetence, recklessness, inattentiveness, inability to judge distances accurately, or slow reactions on the part of the driver. Apropos of this one special survey on a long stretch of one of the nation’s foremost highways (Pennsylvania Turnpike) disclosed the startling fact that the aforementioned reasons accounted for 97 per cent of the accident fatalities. In addition, poor driving practices can, and do, reduce the normal life expectancy of apparatus and result in needless waste of equipment, time and labor.
Criteria in Selection
One of the basic criteria in driver selection is that the candidate be at least of average health and that his sight, hearing and color perception be satisfactory. Such tests are best administered by a physician and should be repeated at stated intervals on those already assigned to drive.
Because of the burden of bis responsibility, complete sobriety while on duty is an absolute must for a fire apparatus chauffeur. Contrary to popular belief, taking aboard “one or two for the road” does not sharpen the wits of the driver or make him more alert or efficient. Instead alcohol, even in very moderate quantities, tends to dull the sight, hearing and sense of touch. It slows down the nervous system, including the brain and impairs judgment, skill and reaction. It is true that an individual may feel a decrease in self-consciousness and an increase in confidence, with mingled feeling of ease and relaxation, upon using alcohol. However, the fear of consequences can be destroyed, and safe driving practices disregarded. Under such conditions, a driver will not be able to accurately judge the speed of his own, or of another’s car nor can he correctly estimate the distances being covered by each.
According to experiments conducted by Yale University Laboratory of Applied Psychology, within one hour after imbibing three and a half ounces of whiskey, a driver’s visual reaction time can be slowed as much as 34 per cent. Another recent publication carried the report of tests conducted on two controlled groups to determine the effects, if any, of mild indulgence. Both groups were made up of individuals so skilled as to qualify as driving instructors. First, they all executed some tricky driving maneuvers and both groups gave par performances. One group repeated the performance in a few hours and, due to previous practice, showed a 20% improvement in driving ability. Some of the other group consumed three or four bottles of beer and others had three or four ounces of whiskey between trials. One hour later they went through the original driving performance. Instead of improving like the teetotalers, of the first group, they showed marked deterioration in driving ability. The beer drinkers lost 18.6% of their original efficiency and the whiskey drinkers’ skill was off 32.7%.
All driving instruction should be on an advanced level as it is hardly worth while to devote the time necessary to train a complete novice. Acceptable candidates should be limited to those showing a marked interest in the job ahead. One recommended method of securing the cream of driver candidates, and maintaining acceptable standards of efficiency in the operation of fire apparatus, is the policy of departments in providing extra monetary or promotional inducements for the job itself. If the job is thrust upon a man in spite of his personal objections, he will learn little from any instructions given him. Each candidate should have an adequate background of driving experience, with commercial experience an asset but not a necessity.
The initial step in a series of qualifying tests for new candidates should be a complete physical examination by a doctor. Such examinations should be repeated at regular intervals, preferably every five years, for all members who drive fire apparatus. Studies tend to show that the physical and mental condition of drivers largely determines whether or not they are likely to become involved in accidents. Specifically, ten per cent of all fatal accidents are caused by drivers who have some physical defect, and more than fifty per cent by drivers violating traffic regulations, which is another way of saying that in some way or another the drivers causing these accidents were not mentally fit, or mentally on the job.
Countless reactions which the driver makes depend on the sight signals he gets. Sight of danger, for instance, is the signal which sets off the stopping reaction. Therefore, these sight signals must tell the truth and tell it quickly. A minimum of 20/40 visual acuity is recommended as a requirement for issuance of a driver’s license by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (State Driver License Officials). This means being able to read at 20 feet the letters on a test chart which you should be able to read at 40 feet. Whether the candidate’s sight (visual acuity) is tested by use of the Snellen Charts or other means, it should also include a test for color vision. It is estimated that about one person in twenty has some difficulty in distinguishing certain colors. It is also estimated that defective color vision is about five times as frequent among men as among women. Today, the Ishihara test for color vision is being replaced by the Allgaier Colorater, which requires the same kind of color discrimination that the driver must show in reading traffic signal lights. A small motor within a rectangularly shaped box turns a disc containing sections of glass of the same colors as are found in traffic signals. A light illuminates each section as it becomes visible through a small opening. The colors appear in random order, each exposed for about two seconds. Candidates are required to name them properly as they appear. In this connection three other devices, similar in their area coverage, were satisfactorily explored. They were:
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- The “Ortho-Rater”, made by Bausch and Lorab Optical Co., Rochester. N. Y.
- The “Keystone Telebinocular,” made by Keystone View Co., Meadville, Pa.
- The “Sight Screener”, made by American Optical Co., N. Y.
All measure such vision aspects of driving as acuity, phoria, depth perception, steriopsis and color recognition. Each of them may be properly administered by a layman, after suitable instruction.
At this point, it might be well to mention these salient facts: (A), In fortyfive states you must pass a test for visual acuity before you can receive a driver’s license. (B) Although night vision has been proved a very important factor in highway accidents, only five states test for it. (C) No state tests for the important subject of glare resistance. (D) In nine states, you must pass a test for depth perception. (E) Eleven states test for adequate visual fields.
Concluding this topic, extreme nervousness or tension, excitability, unfavorable cardiac conditions, blood pressure considerably above or below the average or doubtful general health should be grounds for failure by the physician. The driver himself should keep in mind the fact that seemingly minor disabilities of a temporary nature may definitely affect his driving skill. Such things as an ordinary cold, stomach ache, headache, indigestion, sun burn, stiff muscles, sore throat or hay fever may in an acute emergency spell the difference between a narrow escape and a bad accident. He cannot be expected to relinquish the wheel because of one of these, but he should compensate by extreme caution and attentiveness while driving.
Traffic and Driving Knowledge Test.
It is surprising how incomplete is the knowledge which the ordinary driver possesses concerning specific traffic regulations in force in his own particular locale and how misinformed many of us are on recommended driving procedures. A printed test embodying questions designed to bring out any erroneous impressions or misinformation should be given during the period of initial selection. The test should encompass such topics as what to do in a skid, correct driving practices, causes of accidents, right of way. proper hand signals, speed factors and related data. The test serves as an excellent aid in introducing the topics when covered under classroom instruction wherein the material is further explained and misimpressions corrected, Three recommended tests covering this phase are:
“Knowledge Test for Automobile Drivers”. Center for Safety Education, New York University.
“How to Drive,” compiled by the American Automobile Association Washington, D. C.
“Driver Information Test No. 1”, developed by the U.S. Army.
These tests can and have been used as templates to formulate additional questions on material particularized to the department’s operations. It is generally agreed that such tests are not designed primarily to eliminate a candidate from further training. Rather their purpose is to convince him of his shortcomings in this area and, as already explained, to serve as a teaching technique in further exploration of this field.
Past driving records of new candidates, procurable from police blotters, traffic courts and by questionnaire, should merit close attention as, contrary to common opinion, “History does repeat itself.” It is a known fact that some drivers are much more likely than others to have accidents. We call such drivers “accident-prone.” Studies made by the U. S. Public Roads Administration as well as by a group of commercial concerns operating large fleets of motor vehicles have validated this opinion that some drivers tend to be accident repeaters. In other recent study of many thousand of drivers, some four per cent were found to be responsible for thirty-six per cent of the total number of accidents. An individual with an outside record of repeated traffic violations and accidents is not likely to improve while driving a fire apparatus, with the benefit of a siren and no speed limit to control him.
If a driver is convicted for the following serious types of offsenses, the laws of some states now make it mandatory that his license be revoked:
- Manslaughter by automobile.
- Driving while under the influence of an intoxicant or drug.
- Operating a motor vehicle in the commission of a major crime.
- Failure to stop and render aid when involved in an accident resulting in personal injury or death of another.
- Making false statements under oath involving any law relating to the ownership or operation of motor vehicles.
- Three convictions for reckless driving within a period of 12 months.
Ironically enough, according to the laws of many states, a fire apparatus is not classified as a motor vehicle and the driver, therefore, requires no driving license. Neither does the vehicle carry state license tags. Under these conditions we could very well have a situation where a man, deprived of his right to drive a motor vehicle because of one of the above offenses, still retains the right, legal and otherwise, to drive a piece of fire equipment on the road.
Many large commercial fleet owners, interested in lower insurance premiums, employ the following procedure in dealing with their repeaters.
- The Personal Interview: A detailed report of the series of accidents is made by the repeater. Next, careful analysis is undertaken to determine the causes and the repeater’s part in their occurrence. Specific advice is then given as to means of avoiding recurrence.
Individualized Instruction: The driver trainer or safety inspector carefully observes the repeater while he is operating his vehicle, makes an on-thespot analysis and provides necessary corrective instruction.
The Retraining School: This program includes thorough re-examination (medical and psycho-physical) of the repeater; lectures and discussions followed by safety films showing correct and incorrect methods of driving; actual demonstrations of safe operating practices: specialized retraining to correct faulty driving habits and improper attitudes.
The majority of motor vehicle accidents are caused by drivers who have something wrong with their ideas or attitudes. This is shown by the fact that the main causes of all accidents include violations of traffic rules, disregard of sound driving practices, excessive speeding, passing at the wrong time, violating the right-of-way, and driving on the worng side of the street or road. A majority of these dangerous drivers may be classified as egotists, show-offs and temperamental individuals. None of them should be permitted to sit at the wheel of a fire apparatus. While some traffic-safety engineers express doubt as to the necessity of including a specific attitude test in a fire department program, because of the many imponderable and psychological factors involved, there seems to be little doubt as to their value when correctly used. As stated by Dr. Herbert Stack, Director of the N.Y.U. Center for Safety Education, “Good attitudes are basic to good driving, even more important than skills and knowledge. These attitudes show themselves in specific acts and practices.” Another authority reports: “Recent research has tended to show that knowledge and driving skills, although important, are not enough to guarantee safe driving. The primary cause of accidents . . . are faulty attitudes and poor judgment.”
Attitudes may be looked upon as emotionally influenced tendencies of an individual to behave in a certain way. They result from the concepts and skills an individual acquires and have important implications for instruction in driver education courses, both on a beginner and advanced basis. New information and skills result in an increased appreciation by an individual of his relationship to various factors in the environment. This appreciation, in turn, results in a tendency towards new modes of behavior. For example, as a result of his understanding of “Kinetic Energy and Braking Force” (covered elsewhere in this article) he appreciates the relationship of speed to the possibility of an accident as well as to the severity of any such mishap. As a result of this process. the candidate tends to drive at reascmable and prudent speeds.
Two tests reviewed and approved for determining an applicant’s attitude are:
- “Siebrecht Attitude Scale,” developed by Dr. Elmer Siebrecht, N.Y.U. Center for Safety Education.
- “Driving Attitude Inventory,” by Donald. Conover, Iowa State College.
In summary, incorrect attitudes as determined by such tests or by questions particularized to fire department operations may be corrected through the medium of classroom or other instruction.
Over the past twenty years, a variety of devices has been developed for selecting and training drivers, and today they play an important part in complete driver education. The Armed Forces use them in driver selection and training; commercial firms use them in selection of applicants for positions as drivers; recognized driver training specialists incorporate them in their courses, and at the present time there is a movement under way to have applicants for state licenses to drive be subjected to them. The State of New Jersey, for example, makes copious use of them in its Accident Control Clinic, wherein attendance is compulsory for those drivers who have been convicted of three serious traffic violations.
These testing devices, however, must be administered carefully and under standardized conditions for meaningful results. If tests are properly given they serve several important uses:
- They impress very vividly upon the driving candidate the many personal characteristics in driving so that he will appreciate the importance of the job.
- Made to realize that many other drivers are likely to have various deficiencies, for which allowances must be made, he is encouraged to drive “defensively” or to drive in a manner that compensates for the faults of others.
- Many of the deficiencies unearthed by the tests are unknown to the driver and henceforth he can either correct them or make allowances for them. In addition, certain tests point out where additional training is needed. In this connection research has proved that accidents can be reduced by better than 50% where a driver has been made aware of his limitations and has been taught corrective compensation.
It must be remembered, however, that even though a man has a good or perfect score on these tests, he is not to assume expertness as a driver. Proper driver training and experience, plus correct driving habits and attitudes, arc also essential to safe driving.
Instrucitons for the construction of most of these psychophysical testing machines are given in the Army publication “Driver Selection and Training”; the A.A.A. booklet, “Plans for Building Driver Tests,” and “Driver Testing Devices, Their Construction and Use”, published by the Association of Casualty and Surety Companies.
The following devices should be constructed or purchased by the larger departments which will have continuing driving programs, or they may be had on a loan basis from one of the institutes giving fleet training:
- Field of Vision (Peripheral). Most people can see more than 90 degrees to each side, i.e., “out of the corner of the eye,” making a total field of vision of 180 degrees while looking straight ahead. Good side vision is particularly important in approaching or driving through intersections as well as in passing other vehicles or being passed. This device discovers people who are afflicted with so called “Tunnel Vision” or a narrow visual field. This shortcoming is correctible neither by glasses nor surgery, but since it is largely habit, it may be corrected by training. If this handicap is brought to the attention of a man, he can make allowances for it by:
- Proceeding at a slower rate when approaching places where other vehicles or pedestrians might be approaching from the side.
- Forming the habit of turning his head slightly both ways when nearing intersections or other dangerous points.
The American Optometric Association recommends that your eyes should have the capacity to span a 140 degree arc while looking straight ahead.
- Depth Perception. This device measures in a limited way a person’s ability to make a judgment of space, distance and relative positions of objects. It is important because he must use that judgment in making turns in traffic, in parking in limited spaces, in overtaking and passing other vehicles, and avoiding the mistake of cutting in too sharply or following too closely.
The usual device for measuring this faculty has the candidate line up miniature cars until they appear to be side by side by looking into a mirror; or by lining up two pegs at a stated distance by pulling strings and without the aid of a mirror. This latter device, in which the margin of error should be less than one inch, is called the Howard-Dolman Peg Test (Army Rod Test). A person with below-average ability in judging distances should not follow other cars too closely and, before attempting to pass, he should wait until there is more clear space than appears to be ample.
- Glare Acuity. Some measure of the ability to see with little light is important, as people who can see well during the day cannot always see equally well at night. In addition, meeting glaring headlights on the road can add immeasurably to the problem of night driving. Even after the headlights pass, some time is required for vision to come back to normal. Highway safety engineers have coined the phrase and wisely prescribed the axiom that “Speed should always go down with the sun.”
Strictly on a mileage basis, the fatal accident rate is three times as high at night as it is during the day. Undoubtedly, one of the most important nightaccident factors is the driver’s inability to see enough. Another factor contributing to this is that some drivers experience “blind spots” (night blindness) immediately after meeting bright headlights at night. The bright lights cause the pupils of the eyes to contract and after passing the bright lights, the driver’s eyes do not immediately become readjusted to the darkness. Many professional drivers have learned to solve the problem of oncoming headlights by not looking directly into them, but keeping the eyes towards the right hand edge of the pavement and using that edge as a guide line.
Both glare acuity and night vision are tested by having the candidate look through two apertures in a long box. Controls on the side determine his ability to see with limited illumination, see in the face of glare and how well he can see details. Night vision alone is sometimes tested by keeping a man in a dark room for a halt hour and then have him look into one end of a dark box containing radium buttons which he moves towards him until he can tell which way a series of mounted stripes run.
- Eye Dominance. If one eye is doing more than its share in the seeing job, the other eye is less likely to notice objects coming from that side. In this test the subject lines up a movable aperture with a vertical line, bringing the aperture alternately from the right and left sides.
- Reaction Time. The interval which elapses between a driver’s sight of the need for stopping and moving his foot from the gas to the brake pedal is known as the reaction time, or more exactly for our needs, the braking reaction time. There are two types of devices in present usage for measuring a driver’s reaction time. The first, or simple reaction time machine, consists of a simulated vehicle floorboard with clutch, brake and accelerator pedals. Red and green mounted lights provide the signal for the driver to move his foot from the gas pedal to the brake pedal as quickly as he is able. This elapsed time is measured by a clock in hundredths of a second. In this situation the driver is all set to react, knows what signal to expect, and has no choice as to what reaction he will make. The average person’s reaction time as measured by the electric clock under this set-up is about .40 of a second. The second device, called the complex reaction time machine, has in addition to the aforementioned controls, a right-turn arrow, left-turn arrow, red light and a steering wheel, the signal for each of which goes on at random intervals, requiring the driver to make the proper response. On this particular test the average complex reaction time is about .60 of a second.
However, under actual driving conditions, the situation is much more complicated and the driver is constantly required to make unexpected choices. Most authorities agree that under actual driving conditions the average reaction time is likely to be about 3/4 of a second. Roughly speaking, with this average reaction time, even under ideal conditions of road and weather, a vehicle will travel a distance in feet equal to the speed at which it is traveling, before it starts to slow down.
We have mentioned a figure for the average reaction time, which itself is variable in all of us. Laboratory tests have proved that, along with other factors, reaction time is increased by changes in our physical condition such as fatigue, age, alcohol, eyestrain, sedative drugs and distractions, such as daydreaming, worry, sorrow, business or social planning, conversations or radio. Other studies have shown that beyond the age of 28 our reactions start to slow down, however slightly. Beyond the age of 55 this slow-down is very sharp.
One cannot, however, rely on his reaction time, not exceeding his average in any particular instance, as might happen if his attention were momentarily distracted or his foot should slip off the brake pedal. Besides slower reaction time, with advancing years may come failing eyesight, hearing, high blood pressure and frequent lapses of attention. In addition, glare resistance and glare recovery may grow increasingly difficult. It must be noted, however, that there is no set age at which these shortcomings begin to set in. With one man it may show at 50 years of age, while another may reach 65. This fact only emphasizes more than ever the wisdom of periodical physical examinations, in addition to reaction time and other psychophysical tests. This step would benefit not only the chauffeur but also those riding with him. Many men who have “slowed down” sufficiently to make them poor risks as drivers still make excellent firemen.
Other psychophysical devices which are less frequently used in driver training programs include devices for testing strength and steadiness as well as an audiometer and jerk recorder.
Because of the time element, it seems to be more practical to use individual machines for each of the above tests in situations where there is a large group of candidates. If, however, the group is a small one such as we would have when giving the “refresher” course to an individual company, it would probably be wiser to use one of the portable and compact units which combine a representative group of these tests in one machine. Among others, the following were investigated:
- The “Evaluator”, American Automobile Association, Washington, D. C.
- The “Porto-Clinic”, Porto-Clinic Instruments Co., New York, N. Y.
- The “Driverlab”, Educational Device Co., Suffern, N. Y.
(To be continued)