When VDI coined the phrase, “Behind the Wheel Emergencies” to describe the focus of our training nearly 14 years ago, it was in recognition of the fact that the most common risk the vast majority of Security Drivers face on an everyday basis is a potential crash. Today, with accident related fatalities on the rise, training to the broadest possible spectrum of risks drivers face – from potential accidents to security incidents – is as important as it was more than forty years ago when Tony Scotti first introduced the concept of training to an objective standard and the methodology that made it possible.
Since then, this process, which is based on the laws of physics -the one set of laws that are universal and if violated, the outcome is a given – has improved the chances of survival for literally tens of thousands of professional security drivers, other practitioners, and their passengers, no matter what type of emergency the driver is facing, no matter what type of vehicle they are driving, and no matter where in the world they happen to be. As one of our graduates found out for themselves recently, having achieved that standard and, perhaps more importantly, having gained the level of understanding of the science of driving derived from more than forty years of research, development and training experience, can prove invaluable when dealing with the realities of everyday driving. In addition to the sense of pride and accomplishment that continues to accompany like Matt’s, which we continue to receive more than forty years after Tony first stood up his world renown school – some pertaining to deliberate attacks, but still more relating to potential accidents – there are some important takeaways for anyone who finds themselves facing a behind the wheel emergency to be found in his narrative.
Knowing Why Something is Happening is as Important as Knowing What is Happening
Matt’s after action review shows that from the onset of the emergency, in this case, the car starting to exhibit understeer, being able to think through the problem, identify the root cause, and identify the appropriate corrective action is critical. The ability to do so is not a byproduct of spending a few days having a good time while driving around some cones; it is the practical application of an understanding of WHY the vehicles handling characteristics have changed. In turn, the repetitive application of BOTH this understanding of why a change is occurring as well as the appropriate corrective actions – i.e. what to do about it – in a controlled environment which is designed to present the driver with specific challenges, coupled with coaching provided by those with the depth of knowledge and experience needed to correlate the two, provides a highly effective, intuitive skill set that is readily available to the driver. This approach referred to by experts in adult learning theory as an operant approach to training, provides the sort or sustain capabilities and recall capacity that drivers need the most when confronted with any sort of behind the wheel emergency.
Reaction Time is a Key Factor
Again, as Matt’s description of the situation, he found himself in highlights, even the everyday variety of behind the wheel emergencies transpire in exceedingly short time frames, with even smaller windows of opportunity to implement corrective action. Regardless of whether a driver is forced to avoid the proverbial soccer mom on the cell phone or a deliberate attempt to stop the vehicle, there is a process they must work through in order to solve the problem. That process includes recognition of the potential problem, selecting an appropriate response (presuming, of course, they have the knowledge to formulate one), and implementing a response (once again presuming they have the required ability). The longer it takes to complete any step of the process, the less likely it is that the driver will succeed. Conversely, creating the opportunity for the driver to succeed requires an in-depth understanding of the human factors that impact reaction time, the capability to establish a reaction time baseline for every student, and the tools needed to improve their visual recognition and motor response. From the firsthand perspective he provided, it is clear that Matt benefitted from the time he spent on our Dynavision D2 Visuo-Motor Training System, as well as the training strategies relating to improving reaction time which have evolved from our partnership with Rutgers University Center for Human Performance.
Training MUST be Applicable Under Stress…and There is Only One Way to Know If It Is
Whether the student’s performance is being accurately measured or not, driving through an exercise on a track doesn’t guarantee that a driver will be able to perform anywhere near as well under stress. In fact, performing any relatively complex task in a “sterile” (i.e. stress free) environment may have little practical value when the student is called upon to perform that same task under stress. This is due to factors such as expectancy bias (which slows down reaction time significantly), loss of fine motor control, tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, a host of others that may degrade performance significantly. With all of that in mind, one of the most significant challenges that training providers must overcome is the inherent artificiality of most training, some of which is driven by the absolutely appropriate need for safety and risk management measures, while some is simply driven by a lack of understanding of what can be done to counter those artificialities. Overcoming them and, in turn, introducing stressors into the training environment that, while they may not be present in everyday driving or, for that matter, may be the exception as opposed to the rule, will generate psychological and physiological responses to stress that the student will experience when confronted with virtually any behind the wheel emergency outside of that sterile training environment is a critical factor in providing students sustainable skills.
While Experience Matters, It’s the TYPE of Experience that Matters Most
While the most inexperienced newcomer to the profession recognizes that it is nonsensical to claim that driving everyday in normal conditions and situations provides the experience necessary to successfully manage behind the wheel emergencies, the same applies to providing advanced driver training. Teaching a handful of classes a year to a handful of students is all well and good and, presuming the methodology and training techniques are valid, provides what might be best described as a baseline training capability…and that same dynamic applies regardless of what discipline is being taught. But as Matt’s experience shows, successfully managing behind the wheel emergencies requires accomplishing more than just “baseline” skills, it takes a level of skill that can only be provided by training that separates fact from fiction, incorporates an operant approach to improving student knowledge and skill, measures and improves simple and complex reaction time, and challenges the student to apply their training under stressful conditions. It also lends itself to one simple, undeniable fact – there is little comparison between the outcomes of baseline training and those associated with comprehensive training that leverage the depth and breadth of knowledge derived from thousands of hours a year spent designing, developing and/or delivering dozens upon dozens of training programs, to hundreds of students around the world, in all sorts of conditions, environments and, in the case of driver training, a wide variety of vehicles. Doing so makes about as much sense as claiming that the average driver, equipped with nothing more than a drivers license and, at best, and an average level of experience, is fully equipped for surviving even the most rudimentary behind the wheel emergencies.