In the mid 90’s I was given the opportunity to train at the GM Proving grounds in Phoenix Arizona. This was the greatest EVO driver training I had ever received. The things that stuck out to me was how much I did not know. Serving as an EVOC instructor for nearly 15 years and not being taught or teaching critical elements of emergency vehicle operations was truly humbling. GM instructors taught basic operation beginning with setting up the vehicle for successful operation.
I have taught the Smith System, Drive for FIVE, SIPDE and other defensive driving techniques. Each formula begins with maintaining your peripheral vision. Smith teaches “Aim High in Steering”, Drive for FIVE teaches vision as a key element for driving, SIPDE teaches searching what is ahead of you. BRAKES teaches eyes up!
During the twilight of my career as a State Trooper, I would teach remedial driver training in the Austin area twice a year. Service Commanders from all over the state would send employees to our training because we were doing things differently. After a short time in the classroom, we adjourned to the runway of an abandoned air strip for driver safety training. As I said, we trained differently during this course of instruction. We taught execution of the fundamentals, and control rather than aggressive driving.
The first order of business was to set the patrol unit up for successful operation. Driving an emergency vehicle is business. You are not on family vacation, and your patrol vehicle should not be set up as though you are.
I started teaching for a group out of North Carolina, (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe). The concept is a labor of love by race car driver, Doug Herbert. Doug lost both of his sons, Jon and James, in a car crash. This is outstanding training for new or young drivers. Things we teach to these young drivers made me realize how inadequately we train our emergency vehicle operators. After a short classroom presentation, we take students out to the vehicles, we spend about 5 minutes explaining the keys to successful operation beginning with T.E.S.M. (Tires, Eyes, Seat, and Mirrors). (This was what I was taught at GM and taught patrol officers that attended my remedial training events).
BRAKES instructors are race car drivers, police officers, emergency medical techs, and civilians that want to train young drivers to drive safely.
The purpose of this article is for you to evaluate your training and make sure you are setting the patrol unit up for success.
BRAKES instructs students as they approach the vehicle to look underneath for puddles or spots of fluid. (A leak begins with a drip). As law enforcement officers we should be doing the same, with one exception. We should be looking for anything out of the ordinary. Bombs detonating under a patrol unit have been limited to other countries so far, but it is just a matter of time. Getting into the patrol unit, firing it up and pulling away without any kind of inspection may prove to be a costly mistake. BRAKES instructs while inspecting the ground around the vehicle, visually inspect your tires. Find the wear bars to make sure your tread is adequate. This concept is the same for emergency operation. Vehicles today have TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) but visually inspecting for tire damage and foreign objects may save you from having to change a flat on the side of the road. Manually check tire pressure at a minimum of once per week.
Next, we demonstrate to students Eyes Up! Most defensive driving formulas teach looking down the road 2-4 seconds. Eyes up, or Aim High in Steering, teaches looking through the top ½ of the windshield. By keeping your eyes up, you can see farther down the road allowing more time to make decisions.
Vision through the top ½ of the windshield, may require moving the seat forward and raising the back and base. Proper seating begins with placing your foot on the dead pedal (footrest near the firewall). You should be able to push down and brace yourself into the seat bite. Next cross your wrists and place them at 12 o’clock on the steering wheel. There should be a slight bend at the elbows. If not move the back of the seat forward. You should be able to see all the instrument gauges over the horizon of the steering wheel. If not adjust the steering column. Successful operation requires complete control of the steering wheel. As an EVO instructor we taught a 9 and 3 hand position. BRAKES teaches the same to teen drivers. Wow, what a concept! As BRAKES instructors, we practice what we preach. We use proper hand placement anytime we operate a vehicle on or off duty. As EVO’s, we become complacent with the mundane task of vehicle operation, we forget the fundamentals. That is why you see video of police officers running code in inclement weather, and the body cam shows the officer driving with one hand at 12 o’clock high, better known as the highway patrol hang.
Once the seat is properly adjusted, the mirrors are the final adjustment. The first adjustment should be the inside rearview mirror. Placement should provide a clear view across the rear window. Next adjust the outside left, then the outside right. Many have never been taught to adjust the outside mirrors which leave blind spots around your vehicle. The left mirror should be adjusted so the outside rear door handle is visible by resting your head against the glass. That means the rear of your vehicle is not visible in the mirror when properly adjusted. The right mirror should be adjusted by leaning your head toward the console. There you should see the outside rear door handle. Again, properly seated, the back of the vehicle is not visible in the mirror. By adjusting mirrors in this manner, you reduce your blind spots drastically. As proof of proper mirror adjustment, BRAKES instructors stand approximately 6 feet away from the front left quarter panel. The instructor is clearly visible to the driver. As the instructor moves to the rear of the vehicle, they are visible in the driver’s peripheral vision, then in the left outside rearview mirror. As the instructor moves out of the left outside rearview, they are visible from the inside rearview. When no longer visible in the inside rearview, instructor is visible in the right outside mirror until peripheral vision or central cone vision takes over.
Why this article and why now?
I began demonstrating this concept in my “Law Enforcement Driving Concern” seminar. What I have found is EVO’s do not set their vehicles up for successful operation. The patrol unit is adjusted as if the driver is going on a long driving vacation. By understanding the “Aim High”, or “Eyes Up” concept EVO’s have more time to react to events that occur during emergency response. With proper seating and hand placement, the EVO has more control over the patrol unit. Through proper adjustment of the mirrors, the EVO reduces blind spots and can maintain a safety bubble around the patrol unit and maintain their peripheral vision.
I hope you have taken the time to read this entire article. I hope you checked your ego and will go out and look at how you set up your patrol unit. Understanding and practicing the fundamentals until they become habits will ensure you are maximizing the safety equipment.
Now, buckle your seatbelt, all the time, every time and let’s go to work!
Until next time, Keep the dirty side down and please be careful.