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Defensive Driving Simulator Gives Officers More Experience

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RALEIGH — The Raleigh Police Department is the first in the United States to use a powerful new simulation program to help officers learn defensive driving.

The half-million dollar simulators may reduce injuries and property damage, which will save taxpayers money.

When police officers are caught up in a chase or have to respond quickly to an incident they must use all their driving skills.

"It means a lot of potential for accidents if the driver's not driving in the safest, most defensive manner," said T. L. Earnhardt, Raleigh Police training officer.

Three simulators developed by theI-Sim Corporationare housed in individual cubicles.

"Each car is a fully functional car cab," said Earnhardt. "In the forward section of it, you've got your turn signals, your shifter works."

The feedback, Earnhardt said, is taken from the driver and translated into electrical signals that computers can recognize.

Instructors outside the cubicles program the way virtual vehicles move on the road around the driver.

"We can make some of those vehicles do some very unorthodox things, make the officer have to respond in a defensive manner," Earnhardt said.

Fog, rain and snow can be easily added to make driving more treacherous.

"One of the things that's very difficult is to train the officer to do is to drive in a situation where another driver makes a very hazardous move right next to them," said Earnhardt. "If you do that obviously in the real world you run the risk of having actual injury and damage."

The simulator, though very real-feeling, is not to teach physical skills; rather it is to keep the driver's eyes on everything going on around him or her. It's a challenge.

Other police departments, trucking companies and universities are looking closely at simulators like the Raleigh Police Department's to improve performance and safety on highways.

Raleigh police officers will begin simulator training early next year. In the future the department plans a "skid pad" facility to supplement training.


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