It may seem counter-intuitive, but one of the key advantages of a simulation-based high-speed
pursuit training program is more crashes.
THE VALUE OF SIMULATED CRASHES IN HIGH SPEED PURSUIT TRAINING
A car crash is a highly instructive experience. We already know that “‘learning by doing’ only
works so long as the feedback from our actions is rapid and unambiguous.” Furthermore, memories
formed around emotionally charged experiences tend to be more lasting and to more quickly transform
A motor-vehicle collision ticks all of these boxes: Your actions (or failure to act) result in
immediate, forceful, and unambiguous feedback, drenched in adrenaline. Just as a car crash or other
traumatic event can result in lasting psychological scars (e.g., “post-traumatic stress”), these
experiences can also form the basis of lasting learning.
As Paul Hoff wrote about evaluating simulation-based high-speed pursuit training programs for
the Texas Association of Counties:
“The unique aspect of simulator-based training is that you can totally destroy a car in a
collision, but with a click of the mouse you are back in business and no one is injured.”
A student can experience the simulated crash and then immediately stop, rewind, and step
through the event with an instructor. With events fresh in mind, the student examines and discusses
why the collision occurred, what events lead up to the collision, how each contributed to the collision,
and the resulting short and long-term consequences.
As an added benefit, including crashes in a longer driving scenario allows trainees to practice
an entirely different skill set:
• Collecting themselves in the immediate aftermath of a collision
• Calling in to dispatch for assistance
• Assessing the needs of other involved individuals
• Administering first aid
…and so on.
REAL-WORLD PROBLEM: NEW YORK EMERGENCY MEDICAL RESPONDERS
From the early 1980s through the early 2000s the FDNY relied on closed-course driving
programs to train 300 or more EMS drivers each year. During that period, collision rates remained
more or less constant—about 700 per year. The FDNY was especially concerned by intersection
collisions. These were startlingly frequent (roughly 40 percent of all collisions) and tended to be the
most likely to result in injury. Younger drivers and those new to the force were another special concern.
They were more than 30 percent more likely to be involved in collisions in general and 200 percent
more likely to get into an intersection collision.
In 2003 the FDNY teamed with FAAC to design and implement an emergency driver training
simulation solution. (A simulation design problem very similar to police high-speed pursuit training.)
After researching the challenges faced by FDNY emergency drivers, and those seen nationwide, FAAC
designed a simulator system and series of driving scenarios that included real-world crashes
experienced by FDNY drivers.
FAAC delivered a simulator built on a Ford F350 platform (matching the FDNY ambulance
fleet). With multiple screens to give an immersive 225-degree field of view, motion seat, and forcefeedback
steering, the simulator was able to convincingly emulate momentum, inertia, lateral
movement, and high-speed driving dynamics.
This simulator had a two-part software control system:
• A Scenario Toolbox where instructors craft full, complex driving scenarios
• Real-time controls instructors use to tweak the scenarios as they run.
This allowed FDNY to run their trainees and responders through crashes approximating (or
precisely emulating) actual crashes experienced by their force. FDNY could then leverage this mix of
pre-lesson and real-time control to run sessions in which trainers could pinpoint student errors in
judgement, lapsed skills, and missed “accident avoidance opportunities.”
REAL-WORLD SOLUTION: USING SIMULATED CRASHES TO AVOID REAL ACCIDENTS
FAAC and the FDNY looked at an eight-year period that straddled the adoption of a simulator based
training solution. During that period the total number of ambulance runs increased by 16%, and
the number of units on the road by 8%. But the total number of ambulance collisions went up by just
5%. Meanwhile, the number of intersection collisions—the major focus of the program—declined by 50
Digging into the numbers, FAAC found that prior to adopting the simulation training, intersection
collisions had continued to hover at around 40% of the total number of collisions. But once FDNY had
simulation training in place, intersection collisions plummeted by 75% from their twenty-year norm.
FAAC’s Chief Public Safety Specialist/Pursuit Training Technologies, Chuck Deakins notes:
“This is very indicative of what we see across our high-speed pursuit training and other driving
simulation solutions. Placing students in a very emotionally convincing, life-like scenario that
elicits immediate action, reaction, and reinforcement has proven an especially powerful learning