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Law Enforcement Groups Give Driver Training High Priority

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Blue lights and sirens are supposed to mean help is on the way.

But several times this year, officers never got to help because they crashed their cars along the way.

Now, many law enforcement agencies are making driver training a higher priority.

One day usually is the same as the next behind the windshield of a Clinton patrol car. Officer Vernon Huffman admits it is easy to think nothing unusual will happen.

"Then all of a sudden," Huffman said, "you're in that situation."

Other officers and deputies found themselves in those situations this year. In the rush to respond to calls, they caused death or injury to themselves or others.

It happened in Durham last July, Cumberland County in August.

Two Wake County deputies died within a month.

"They're gone," said J.W. Simmons, a driver-safety course instructor at Sampson Community College. "We've got another chance, and I'm telling you today, the only chance that we've got is to use this (driver safety class).

Several officers came to the class because of the recent incidents.

Simmons said there is a greater demand for refresher courses on "crucial thinking skills," not necessarily on outdoor training tracks.

Said Huffman: "You can drive through cones all day long, forward and backing up. But if you can't sit behind the wheel and think, you're fighting a losing battle."

Thinking clearly can be difficult enough for the ordinary driver distracted by a cell phone and a radio. But imagine adding a two-way radio, scanner, laptop -- and an emergency.

"The adrenaline is flowing," Huffman said. "We're driving, blue light, siren, gets you pumping a little more."

It is all to help someone in need. But, as Simmons said, "you're no good unless you get there safely."

The State Highway Patrol requires driver refresher courses annually. But many city and county law enforcement agencies do not.

Huffman, a 10-year veteran, said the last driver training he got was when he earned his badge.

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