Force Science to bring unique new research-based police driving training to a computer screen near you.
A new collaboration between the Force Science Research Center and the producer of ground-breaking computerized training programs could soon radically alter the way officers learn to drive on high-speed pursuits, Code 3 calls, and conventional patrol.
“The results will be significantly heightened decision-making and efficiency behind the wheel, plus improved safety for officers and civilians alike,” according to Dr. Bill Lewinski, FSRC’s executive director at Minnesota State University-Mankato. “This effort could have a major impact on officer survival, given the high percentage of law enforcement fatalities that now occur each year in traffic mishaps.”
Lewinski announced today the formation of a strategic partnership between FSRC and the young British firm a2om (pronounced atom), whose unique driver-training system is based on cutting-edge scientific findings about the human brain.
“a2om’s programs “do not duplicate or supplant ordinary driving simulators or teach the physical mechanics of vehicle operation. Instead they complement those other important elements of driver training,” Lewinski told Force Science News.
“This training system concentrates on building vital cognitive skills—scanning awareness, information processing, reaction time, and judgment—that are too often overlooked or minimized. It produces documented changes in the judgment centers of the brain that, in turn, change the way people anticipate and react to challenges while driving.”
Founded about 2 years ago and based in a suburb of London, a2om’s pioneering, neuroscientific-based e-learning technology evolved from some 20 years of research into driver performance at leading universities in England and New Zealand. It’s quirky corporate name has a dual meaning: it suggests the explosive power of its pioneering training programs and also implies a comprehensive gamut of benefits with its representation of alpha and omega, the first and last letters of the ancient Greek alphabet.
The company’s director of research is Dr. Lisa Dorn, an award-winning behavioral scientist at England’s Cranfield University, who holds a PhD in individual and group differences in driver behavior. The European representative to the Traffic and Transport Psychology Division of the International Assn. of Applied Psychologists, she has served on expert panels investigating police-related traffic incidents and as an advisor to the Assn. of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
So far, a2om’s training has been tailored primarily to student and commercial drivers in the United Kingdom.
“FSRC will help the company develop its first special programming for police training, and then introduce the system to law enforcement agencies and training facilities throughout North America,” Lewinski says. He predicts that an operative system will be available in the U.S. within 6 months to a year.
The core of the a2om method is an interface between a trainee and a multitude of challenging real-world scenarios that are projected from a DVD or through an internet connection onto the screen of a desktop or laptop computer. The high-definition scenes are shot on urban streets and rural roads in real traffic—not contrived simulations or animations—and are viewed from the point-of-view of someone driving a vehicle amidst them under various lighting and weather conditions.
You see a dashboard with all instruments, including gas gauge, speedometer, and turn signals, activated during the scenarios, as you would while driving. Each scene appears simultaneously and in real time through the windshield as well as in the interior rearview mirror and 2 side mirrors, each displaying its unique, proper perspective.
Some scenarios are intended to challenge and strengthen your scanning ability, others your hazard detection and “risk management.” The complexity, duration, and driving speed vary from scene to scene. In some cases, you are expected to click on real or potential hazards as you become aware of them; in others, the action freezes without warning and you are asked to identify from a list that appears on screen what critical elements you have witnessed during your “drive.”
“With the need to watch ahead and monitor the action behind and to the sides in 3 mirrors, it is far from easy,” Lewinski says. “But acuity and proficiency build through repetition.”
Initially, Lewinski sees the pending police version being used primarily in pre-service training, before recruits are exposed to driving simulators or real in-car practice.
“This allows for the honing of their cognitive processes as the first step in their development of the unique skills necessary for safe and effective driving in a law-enforcement context,” he explains. “Research has shown that it’s not the physical mechanics of operating a squad car that get officers in trouble. Instead, it’s flawed judgment and the failure to anticipate problems and risks.
“The a2om program is unique in that it is built from the ground up on the current scientific understanding of brain processing and development. Just as spending time at the firing range builds ‘muscle memory’ for officers, the a2om system immerses trainees in real-world driving scenarios that train the brain in a highly interactive, fun, and intuitive manner how to operate a vehicle more safely.
“This system is much more visually and cognitively demanding than anything offered by a driving simulator, and provides many more opportunities for rehearsing to build visual and cognitive skills. Scene after scene, judgment after judgment—the rich profusion of real-world challenges is truly unique.”
The London Metropolitan Police, an agency that’s working closely with FSRC on a number of research projects, takes an extraordinarily realistic approach to training police drivers, Lewinski points out. Pursuit driving, for example, is taught by having trainees conduct mock chases in actual traffic, eventually at speeds up to 100 mph—an approach unheard of in the U.S. “When officers finish this training, they’re able to accurately process 4 times more information to avoid hazardous situations when driving than they were before,” he says.
“The sophisticated a2om system, combined with conventional components of good driver training, promises to offer the closest thing to this ultimate hands-on experience, without the inherent risks and extensive time commitment. That will be a significant improvement over what most police driving training accomplishes now.
“a2om has documented that its training significantly improves driving ability and maturity of judgment and, most important, the ability to detect, recognize, and respond to hazards of the road or street before you come upon them.”
a2om’s approach has been supported and endorsed by major European auto manufacturers, and as a testament to its effectiveness, British insurance companies offer discounts up to 60% for students who successfully complete the training.
In the police version of the a2om programs, you will view an evolving traffic environment as if you are riding in a North American patrol car, complete with a mobile data terminal and other potential cockpit distractions.
FSRC will furnish the cameras necessary to film the scenarios you’ll see unfold through the windshield and in the mirrors and will help in researching and testing what type of traffic challenges should be recorded in order to realistically reflect the situations officers face in high-speed and every-shift driving.
Trainees will likely be given an online test to profile their specific behavioral tendencies related to driving. In training, they will then be exposed to programs that provide extra emphasis on their main-risk areas. “In all cases,” Lewinski says, “the training will focus on how best to use your eyes and brain to make the safest choices as your move through traffic.
“Our goal is to provide an affordable training package that will help agencies sharply reduce officer deaths and injuries, better protect the civilian population, and cut the costs and liabilities of driving mishaps.”
Force Science News will keep you updated as this undertaking progresses. Meanwhile, to learn more about a2om, visit the firm’s website: www.a2om.com.