By CLINT FOSTER
PALO PINTO – Law enforcement is often a thankless and dangerous job in which officers put their lives on the line daily to protect local communities. But possibly one of the most overlooked dangers in the line of duty are hazards on the road.
Whether in a high-speed chase or due to simple negligence from others on the road, police must always be aware when driving for their safety and those around them.
The Texas Association of Counties is doing their part to reduce that risk by using a driving simulator, which visited Palo Pinto this week.
“My goal is to use the driving simulator to reduce cost to the county by reducing collisions and injuries to county drivers,” Simulator and Training Specialist Don Courtney said.
Members of the Palo Pinto County Sheriff’s Office, County Fire Marshal Buddy Harwell and other county emergency personnel all sat behind the driver’s seat of a virtual driving simulator, after logging classroom hours, for a specialized defensive driving course.
Driver’s were faced with real-world driving conditions and had to maintain good driving habits and awareness while accounting for weather, lighting and computer generated drivers and bystanders that did not always obey traffic laws.
PPSO also did a simulated high speed chase, in which they had to follow a suspect vehicle while communicating with dispatch and avoiding road hazards.
Although the driver’s seat of the simulator, surrounded by monitors, has been known to give some motion sickness or vertigo, the response from most who took the test was positive.
“It’s pretty accurate, other than that the steering is a little over [sensitive],” Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Jordan said. “But all the stimulation that’s going around is pretty consistent with what we deal with. All in all, it was a pretty neat experience.”
Since its launch in 2000, more than 6,400 county drivers in three-quarters of the state’s counties have used the simulator to enhance their ability to make life-saving, split-second decisions in often dangerous driving conditions. TAC’s simulator has logged more than 100,000 miles traveling across the state and training drivers at no cost to the counties.
“Studies have shown that driver-training programs effectively reduce risks while educating drivers on safe-driving measures,” Courtney said.
“Even professional drivers can slip into bad habits behind the wheel. The simulator training reinforces good driving habits that help improve employee safety and make them better prepared for the unexpected.”
PPSO Corporal David Carlyle said the simulator is a great, different way to train law enforcement for the dangers they face every day.
“We can always use more training, especially in our driving because that’s what’s killing law enforcement most these days: vehicles, not gunfire,” he said. “The better we can do in our vehicles, where we spend most of our day, the better it will be.”