The post-pandemic period is making it increasingly clear that situational awareness training is more important than ever for law enforcement, especially behind the wheel. Traffic accidents have long been among the leading causes of on-duty law officer fatalities. During the pandemic, traffic deaths rose 7% nationwide—and jumped 44% for police officers.
Every law enforcement agency wants to reduce officer-involved traffic incidents. These don’t just create potential for embarrassment or tragedy, but are also increasingly expensive.
Although individual officers are broadly protected from legal liability for actions taken in the line of duty (i.e., “qualified immunity”), police departments and state/municipal governments enjoy no such protections. There is no comprehensive database of the nationwide cost of officer-involved auto accidents, but one analysis found that juries almost invariably award at least $400,000 to victims and their families. In one recent case, a jury awarded an injured motorist $2.7 million, despite a decades-old state law placing a $500,000 cap on such damages. In general, payouts in the millions or tens of millions of dollars are common in these situations (and into the hundreds of millions far from unheard of). Most survive legal challenges.
Fortunately, law enforcement agencies have options other than the courtroom to mitigate their risk.
Situational Awareness Training Saves Lives and Money
Improving police training has long been the bedrock of risk mitigation in law enforcement—and even relatively modest investments in training can make a huge difference.
In 2019, Robert E. Hoyt, a professor of risk management and insurance at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, completed a cost-benefit analysis of simulation-based training and its impact on officer-involved crashes. He looked at 15 years of data from the state of Georgia (the project was on behalf of Georgia’s Local Government Risk Management Services, a part of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association).
According to Hoyt’s analysis—which only looked at Georgia agencies already using simulation-based training—a roughly $500,000 investment in simulation systems resulted in 300 fewer accidents per year, with an associated cost savings of approximately $3.6 million annually. (Hoyt’s complete findings were published in the Journal of Insurance Regulation as “The Impact of Motor Vehicle Simulator Training on Law Enforcement Officer Driving Behavior: Empirical Evidence from Accident Frequency and Severity.”) As Hoyt later noted, “We went back and got data on how much it cost to provide this training, and compared that to the savings through reduced accident costs, and found that it was producing about a 12-to-1 return on investment,” Hoyt said.
FAAC Incorporated has decades of experience developing immersive simulation training solutions for law enforcement. Our most recent generation of law enforcement driving simulators go beyond refreshing the “muscle memory” of good driving habits to include split-second decision making during high-risk events—which are the key to increasing officer safety and effectiveness while reducing crashes.