Police throughout Germany are not fairing well in German courts when officers are involved in traffic accidents. This is the case even when the accident occurs during emergency driving.
According to Polizeihauptkommissar (Captain) Juergen Pfaffenzeller, manager of the simulator project of the Bavarian Emergency Police, a police officer in Berlin drove his car through an intersection with the green light in his favor. When a crash resulted, the officer had to pay a fine of $175 and his operator’s license was suspended for one month. Elsewhere, an officer had to pay out $25,000 in damages to the operator of a motorcycle. Yet while traffic is more congested than ever and police duties continue to increase, citizens still expect the arrival of police officers within minutes of an emergency call.
In Bavaria, police trainers have begun a pilot program utilizing a driving simulator built by Rheinmetall Defence Electronics. This special police driving simulator was created over a 1.5 year period in cooperation with the University of Wurzburg and with experienced police officers of the Bavarian Police, in particular those assigned to Bereitscaftspolizei (Bepo or BP for short).
Professor H.P. Krueger and 20 staff members at the University of Wurzburg’s Center for Traffic Science worked on the Bepo driver simulator program. In the early stage of its development, Krueger analyzed police operational driving, created training scenarios for the simulator, and took responsibility for evaluating the entire training program.
Rheinmetall Defence Electronics Company, an international leader in electronic and system techniques and specializing in simulation systems, delivered hardware for the program. They also produce battle tank simulator systems for the German army. The biggest challenge for the company, however was developing the Bepo program software.
Bepo is a training and readiness system for police within the Bavarian State Police. Its primary function is to train all young officers during their 2.5 year basic academy course at a police college. There are Bepo colleges in other Bavarian cities such as Nuremberg, Munich, Wuerzburg, Eichstaett, Dachau and Koenigsbrunn, but currently the only location for the driving simulator is at Sulzbach-Rosenberg.
The addition of Bepo’s simulator to the police driver-training program is seen as a worthy idea that addresses the legalistic, dark side of police rapid response times and emergency driving - the risk of police car traffic crashes.
Pilot Project Training
Other driver simulators often involve just the front of a vehicle, and might even have a wooden bench for the back seat. The one used by Bepo has the students sitting in an actual engineless, BMW 318i police car, which came from BMW in Munich. When they use the simulator, Bepo students must fasten their seat belts and turn the ignition.
The sound of the car’s motor running, traffic noises coming from the appropriate direction, the feel of acceleration, turning and stopping, and the fact that students are in an actual police car make the experience very real. After a few minutes they forget they are driving a simulator, and that the other vehicles and traffic conditions they encounter are in a virtual world.
In conjunction with the driver simulator, there is a small classroom where the Bepo students receive lessons in the form of Computer-Based Training. This computer system offers exercises in recognizing dangerous driving situations for police car operators and theoretical driving lessons. The officers also receive team exercises in which videotapes are used. These form the basis for discussions of various types of traffic situations as well as the decisions the students make during their simulator exercises.
Beyond Previous Driver Training
The purpose of the simulator project is not to teach basic driving skills, but to go beyond the level of previous driver training. The simulator experience demonstrates the kinds of mistakes the police car operator and the drivers of other vehicles can make so that the student can learn controlled driving in an emergency.
Included in this program’s content are: 1) general training concerning the officers’ behavior during overhead blue light, high speed and pursuit driving; 2) legal lessons dealing with when they are allowed to use police blue lights and siren; 3) communication with the operation commander at the police command room and navigation of the area streets; 4) crew management, since in most cases there are two officers in a police car; and 5) special operation situations, such as car pursuits using ghost (unmarked) police cars on the autobahn interstate system.
Vehicle pursuit driving is considered the most difficult form of high speed driving. Analysis of police car pursuits have shown that too often these situations can get out of control because there is a strong interaction between the behaviors of the fleeing driver and the police car operator. Powerful emotional reactions, such as fear or annoyance, can combine with a readiness to take higher risks by both the fugitive’s driver and the police officer which can lead to accidents. Bepo, however is based more upon officers’ behavior during an operation than drivers’ training.
In addition to driving performance, operations, and crew management, Bepo’s simulator training is stress management oriented. Maladaptive, inappropriate and ineffective emergency vehicle driver emotions can be disruptive, while mild emotions may be constructive in reinforcing the program’s training goals.
Simulator-based driver development is regarded as team training between the police car driver, the passenger-seated second officer, and the operational commander at the police command center, with the instructor taking the part of the police commander. Radio communications with the police commander during high-speed or pursuit driving is part of the program because sometimes the student officers have difficulty using the correct radio procedures during stressful situations.
In the Simulator
By utilizing the driver simulator’s virtual data mine of programs, instructors can allow the Bepo trainees to experience the different reactions of other road users when an emergency police vehicle is in operation, and teach them how to overcome driving difficulties in typical dangerous driving situations.
While the scenarios begin in the same fashion, the other road users, such as cars or pedestrians, behave in a random fashion. In this way, none of the scenarios are identical so students cannot become familiar with them or anticipate what will happen next. In these virtual programs, about 40 different external road users are available, including cars, trucks, buses, and pedestrians, which are situated within the immediate visible vicinity of the driver’s own police vehicle, moving in accordance with traffic regulations.
The instructor, who also has the ability to control the exercises’ levels of difficulty, can influence traffic density and the defensive or aggressive driving behavior of the surrounding traffic. In addition, the instructor can select environmental conditions such as fog, dusk, night, winter, summer, slippery road surfaces, etc.
At the instructor station, trainers control the simulator, observe the driver, generate the exercises and perform their debriefings. An important tool for instructors in designing exercises is their ability to control events. Variations can include the careful insertion of traffic signals that suddenly change to red or fail completely, people or vehicles that disregard the right of way, a pedestrian crossing the road, the unexpected braking of a vehicle in front of the police car, unexpected cutting-in by another vehicle, a traffic jam, a signal at a railroad crossing, a vehicle shedding a loose load, and other situations. These events can be used repeatedly, alone and in combination with one another.
Other exercises that can be created to focus on driving for blue light, emergency missions include (1) another vehicle crossing a road intersection in front of the police car, (2) police driver attempting to clear a path through traffic, (3) a red light with blocked traffic lanes, (4) a vehicle that is hidden or partially hidden behind another as it crosses an intersection, and additional drills. Driving exercises can be generated, modified, tested and stored by the instructor at the instructors’ station. The instructor does not need to have any special knowledge of computer skills other than the ability to work with the Windows operating system.
During the exercise, the behavior of the Bepo student is recorded and compared with the rules that are stored in the simulator system. Every scenario can be played back, allowing the instructor and Bepo student to review the exercise as it was performed and discuss the driver’s error record. In addition to real-time playback exactly as it happened, the student and instructor can look at the scenario from various observation positions such as from above, from the point of view of oncoming traffic, or from the side of the road. This feature is included to ensure optimum and objective exercise debriefings.
At the conclusion of the two-day simulator course, the students take an examination. From there, the training advances to actual, on-the-road pursuit driving in traffic.
Police Simulation Driving Theory
Density of traffic, inconsiderate road users, and decreasing police training budgets impose challenges to police drivers. The developers of the Rheinmetall Defence Electronics Driving Simulator believe that it is only during real missions that police drivers can gain experience in emergency driving in everyday traffic situations. The behavior of road-users can be only taught to a limited extent during training; creating these emergency scenarios in a field-training driving course would be prohibitively expensive as well as limited in scope.
The goal of the simulator is to give the driver a realistic feeling of driving. The settings available include city, rural, two-lane and four-lane roadways as well as the autobahn. The driver experiences the same sensations he would when driving a real emergency vehicle.
The appearance and functioning of all controls and dashboard instruments is the same as in a real vehicle, and the behavior and feel of an actual police car is replicated meticulously and accurately conveyed to the driver. Lifelike sensations of acceleration, braking and cornering are created by the simulator’s motion system as well as by increased and decreased pitches in engine and traffic noises.
Below the car’s platform is a motion system that also gives the driver the feeling of a car on the road through vibrations. A 210-degree screen around the vehicle projects the scenarios into the driver’s field of view, and images are also sent to the car’s rear and side view mirrors. As in real life, the driver and the simulation vehicle are immersed in the virtual traffic situation.
Keeping the Costs Down
Rheinmetall Defence Electronics is working to keep the cost of the police driver simulator down by using components, such as computers, that are standard and readily available. While the system has a useful life of more than 10 years, the company recommends departments obtain a maintenance agreement to assure availability.
The driver simulation housing does not need a special building, but can be set up in a normal facility garage because it is only 4.60 meters (approximately 15 feet) high.
By using the simulator during training, police drivers can experience emergency mission driving without endangering themselves or others. Departments will realize the big savings, however, in the reduction of the harsh adjudications of the court system against the police officers of Bavaria when they are engaged in the operation of police vehicles.
Jim Weiss is a retired lieutenant from the Brook Park, OH, Police Department and a frequent contributor to LAW and ORDER.
Mickey Davis is a Florida-based journalist.