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Addressing Driver Distraction and Fatigue in Police Pursuit Training

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2015 distracted driving injured 391,000 Americans—mostly private citizens. Subsequently, in the vast majority of these cases the solution is easy and obvious: Toss your cell phone in the glove box.

But emergency responders—and especially law enforcement officers—do not have that option. On-call police officers must constantly monitor a variety of distinct information channels: the roadway ahead, the surrounding area (including alleys, homes, tree-lines, etc.), radio dispatch, the mobile data terminal (MDT), any suspect that may be in the vehicle, etc.

Research has begun to clarify the challenges of in-vehicle distraction and fatigue faced by police. But addressing these risks is a challenge. Advancements in immersive police pursuit training simulator technology make it possible for police to hone new skills to manage distraction and fatigue.

Mounting Research on the Impact of Distraction and Fatigue on Police Pursuit Training

According to the 2009 Driver Training Study release by California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (CA POST):

Some research indicates that as many as 80% of [all traffic] collisions are caused by distracted drivers. Distraction can be divided into many categories. The most basic are ‘internal’ (e.g., thinking about what’s happening at the scene you are responding to) and ‘external’ (e.g., manipulating the radio or MDT). Combining internal and external distractions compounds the likelihood of a collision. The amount of multi-tasking a peace officer driving an emergency vehicle undertakes is significant (consider radios, scanners, computers, lights, sirens).

Additionally, CA POST noted that “shift work frequently leads to fatigue. A [2008] presentation… at the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Conference suggested that fatigue may be a significant factor in many law enforcement collisions.”

Further research has confirmed the dangers of distraction and fatigue among law enforcement officers. A 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that “Among a group of North American police officers, sleep disorders were common and were significantly associated with increased risk of self-reported adverse health, performance, and safety outcomes.” More than one-quarter of the thousands of officers surveyed for the study “reported falling asleep while driving at least 1 time a month.” (source)

In a 2015 study for the RAND Corporation, Tom LaTourrette similarly found that “A single officer in a vehicle has more than twice the risk of injury in a crash compared to having another officer in the car. … [H]aving a non-officer in the vehicle increased the risk of injury [further].” (source) He went on to suggest that while having a non-officer in the vehicle added to the overall environment of distraction in the cruiser, adding a second officer mitigated this by supplying an extra set of eyes on the road, as well as an extra pair of hands to help manage the many in-vehicle distractions.

Optimizing Police Pursuit Training to Address Each Department’s Unique Challenges

The challenge is that each of the nation’s nearly 18,000 law enforcement agencies faces a unique combination of in-vehicle and situational distractions.

FAAC Business Development Project Manager Jason Francisco explains “Every agency has its own set of technological gadgets and communications systems that officers need to manage while on duty. Our team of developers and subject matter specialists work with each department and their trainers to develop the ideal solution to perfectly emulate both that equipment and the scenarios those officers will find themselves in on a daily basis.”

FAAC’s law enforcement Continuum of Training simulation solution specifically seeks to address distracted driving through Isolation Skills Training. First, and most importantly, the instructor can isolate single events in order to train for individual skills. Once skills are secure, they begin to build on them, honing the correct sequencing of responses. The goal: next level training of multi-faceted tasks for split second decision making and judgement.

Since FAAC simulators are fully programmable, both isolated and sequenced skills can be repeated to establish conditioned reactions. The instructor can tweak these scenarios while they’re running. This increases retention, deepens emotional learning, and prevents “rigid” programming. The goal is to help officers retain cognitive flexibility, even while executing a conditioned response. Most importantly, FAAC trainers can help law enforcement trainers develop custom programs. These help officers recognize situational stresses that may cloud judgement or derail a conditioned response, leading to dangerous—even deadly—errors.

Breaking out and isolating individual skills, integrating those skills together into sets of conditioned response, and repeatedly practicing these through a variety of scenarios is the key to taming distractions and alleviating fatigue in daily vehicle operation.

FAAC Incorporated is the leader in simulation training solutions. Our high fidelity simulators provide an unmatched level of realism that immersion, allowing users to experience real world conditions and events.  Find us online at faacdev.wpengine.com