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Police Driver Training


First published in the Good Motoring magazine (April-June 2005) and reproduced here by kind permission of the Guild of Experienced Motorists)



Are British police forces doing enough to reduce killed and serious injury collisions involving police vehicles? Road Policing Inspector with North Yorkshire Police, Chris Charlton, embarked on a project to find out.


The project was to establish how far UK forces have moved forward regarding improvements to police driver training and whether technology in the form of ‘Black Boxes’ is a solution. It was sponsored by the Northern Region of the International Police Association and carried out as part of the BTEC Edexel Professional Development Diploma in Accident and Safety Management.


Police officers receive additional driver training to that of the ‘everyday’ driver but although training principals are similar from force to force, police drivers are not all trained to the same standard. Road Policing* officers, for example, receive a far higher level of training than officers carrying out local beat patrols. Many police drivers are often required to drive in conditions and circumstances not expected of the ‘everyday’ driver and the demands to attend incidents within target times add to the pressures but this is no excuse for officers to become involved in a collision. 

[* Bold text and italics added by Drive and Stay Alive, Inc., to clarify a major difference in training levels. Note also that road policing officers have had several other titles, over the years, including traffic officers, traffic patrol officers, traffic department, mobile support group, etc.]


The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), [formerly] the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), supervises investigations into fatal and life threatening collisions involving police vehicles, particularly those arising from pursuits and responses to emergencies.  During the year 1997/98, they supervised 27 investigations including 9 fatalities. By 2001/02, this had risen to 59 investigations of which 44 were fatal. 


High profile police vehicle collisions involving Sheena MacDonald and Heather Mills (McCartney) also added to the growing pressure for the police to make safety improvements.  


Police driver training has improved in some forces but in others, chief officers have found competing priorities with other areas of training mean compromise solutions have to be found and this is not always to the benefit of driver improvement and casualty reduction.


Recent advances in technology in the form of ‘Black Boxes’ or Satellite Tracking Devices (STD’s), Journey Data Recorders (JDR’s) and Incident Data Recorders (IDR’s) may offer long-term cost effective solutions. As their names suggest, the three types of technology all perform different functions but all can have significant effects on driver behaviour and IDR’s can provide useful evidence of the manner of driving of a police vehicle during an investigation into a collision.


Black boxes have been in use in the automotive industry since the early ‘90’s and are a concept borrowed from the aviation industry. They have been developed from a variety of sources including tachographs, engine management systems, accelerometers and motion sensors.  


STD’s, as they are now known, began life in the security sector as a crime prevention tool used to track high value loads or vehicles. They transmit frequent pulses of information and the availability of global positioning satellites (GPS) now allows operators to geo-code the exact position of a vehicle at any location in the world. Constant upload and download of data allows several vehicles to be monitored in ‘real time’ at any one time. Other tracking devices are linked to the emergency service’s Airwave radio system and are known as Automatic Vehicle Location Systems (AVLS). 


Approximately 3000 base-stations located across the county triangulate the positions of all Airwave equipped police vehicles allowing controllers to know exactly where a police vehicle is at any given time. Data recorded by the system can also provide indications of a vehicle speed and direction. AVLS can also provide minute by minute status (availability) of a patrol and enhancements to the system can also record use of blue lights, sirens etc. 


The major weakness in this system is the inability to record pulses of data quickly, i.e. every minute or every 1500 metres travelled although costly enhancements can improve this situation to seconds. However, when it is considered that most collisions last between 0.8 and 1.6 seconds, it is easy to assess the limitations of this system for collision investigation. 

Major fleet operators originally fitted JDR’s to vehicles to monitor and record vehicle use and journeys. Initially, they were stand-alone devices and once the data was downloaded, it was analysed and then used to improve efficiency, or perhaps identify driver-training needs. They have now developed and incorporate some of the features common to STD’s, i.e. GPS positioning and data can now be downloaded by mobile telephone on a frequent basis which can lead to reductions in fleet costs, more efficient vehicle use, identification of driver abuse and productivity. This type of technology has already been considered by highway authorities in Ireland as a means to carry out road charging.


IDR’s are perhaps the single most influential form of technology capable of influencing police driver behaviour. They are capable of monitoring and recording several aspects of driving, i.e. acceleration, braking, rotation, direction, speed, use of lights, indicators etc. and up to 10 different status inputs can be recorded simultaneously. They record and overwrite data at speeds of up to 256 cycles per second although only 45 seconds of data is ever monitored at any one time. Immediately after an incident, the period from 15 seconds prior to the incident to 30 seconds after is recorded and this can be downloaded and analysed post collision as part of an investigation. It is quite apparent how this technology can be used to modify police driving techniques and how it can be used as part of a detailed collision investigation.


At the time of this report, only 12 British police forces were using IDR’s although others were using STD’s (AVLS). The research, which was carried out with all British police forces, attempted to test the effects that data recorders were having, or were likely to have on police drivers. It also sought to identify cost savings and improvements to vehicle availability on police vehicle fleets where data recorders were being used. The responses to questionnaires and surveys were limited and the results proved inconclusive however, it did suggest some interesting trends and changes in attitudes and culture:

  • Police forces nationally are moving towards the fitting of data recorders in police vehicle fleets

  • Police drivers are more aware of the benefits and disadvantages of data recorders and are, in general, modifying their driving accordingly

  • Improved driver behaviour changes in police drivers

  • A reduction in police vehicle collisions in those forces using them.

Although the police service is moving in the right direction, it still has a long way to go to reassure the public that it is taking constructive and positive action to reduce police vehicle crashes. There is a lot of training and re-training yet to be done and police force senior command teams have some tough decisions ahead in order to provide the necessary recourses and technology to make real and long-term improvements.