By Robert Raheb
FDNY EMS Lt. (ret), Emergency Response Specialist — FAAC, Inc.
Driving is taught from an analytical viewpoint; rarely do we cross over to the emotional side of driving. From the time you started driver's education to your first EVOC class, the same information was shared. Analytically we are taught:
- Laws, rules and regulations
- Vehicle and road dynamics
- Practice skills to help improve our depth perception and spatial judgment
All very important stuff and not to be taken lightly; after all, you can't play the game if you don't know the rules. But just as important as that is you must have your heart and mind in the game to win.
When it comes to both driver's education and EVOC, this is where we are failing. With all the advancements in automotive technology and roadway design, why is the death toll still at approximately 42,000 people a year, every year.
And why is it the number one traumatic killer in our emergency services are vehicle collisions? Because we fail to teach to the emotional side of driving. I'm not talking about touchy-feely and singing "Kumbaya" around a campfire. I'm talking about what drives you to do what you do behind the wheel.
When did we start learning to drive? Most would say when they got their permit and started driver's education. But the reality is you started to learn how to drive somewhere around 2 years old and you were able to start to process and identify certain types of behavior.
I have a friend who has a 2-and-a-half year old who is constantly flailing her left arm and yelling while they are in the car. I asked him why she does that and he told me that's how her mother drives; constantly yelling and shaking her fist at everyone. Oh great! Hopefully I won't be on the road when she comes of driving age. That emotional driving is what usually gets us into trouble.
We tend to do that in our emergency vehicles as well. All of our training in fire, EMS, and police academies tells us to not rush in, to take 10 seconds and size up the scene. Hazmat and confined space training does exactly that, too: No matter what, do not go in without the proper equipment and training.
Yet, we fail to teach this in our EVOC programs. Telling our students that going through the intersection before ensuring that it's clear is not the same as training someone on the consequences of making that mistake.
Some different approaches to train toward the emotional side of the driver have been tried to give anecdotal testimony of someone who has been involved in a serious collision; apparently this isn't working because we haven't changed the statistics.
It's what we have always been taught and it's what we continue to do; we just need to change the medium we present it in. Think back to the "Highway of Blood" film that was shown in Driver's Ed or others from as early as the 1960s.
The problem is that the student cannot identify with those individuals; we have the "that can't happen to me" ingrained in us. The other problem was how do you train someone in dangerous maneuvers without endangering them or others?
Improvements in simulation
Simulation training enables the student to interact with various driving environments and weather conditions within minutes. Simulation training has been around for several decades and is continually improving in both fidelity and responsiveness.
EMS academies use simulator mannequins so students can see in real time the response of their "patients" based on their actions. Fire academies use flashover simulators and smoke rooms in helping to develop a student's experience before going into the field.
Police academies use "Use of Force" simulators to learn how to deal with a potentially deadly situation and the best way to mitigate it. And now, driver training programs are also starting to get on board as more departments recognize the need to improve situational awareness in the driver.
Driving is becoming more complex due to technology integration within the cab and other vehicles, and the increased distractions that occur to most drivers. Cell phones and attention-grabbing passengers/patients aren't the only distractions for drivers.
Strong emotions can be a huge distraction. Responding to a call for help is more stressful then most of us will admit. But, when your emotional and physical states aren't connected and your attention is being diverted elsewhere, you can't react as quickly when a situation arises.
Simulation training allows the training program to put its students through these "High-Risk, Low-Frequency" type responses. Simulation training allows the student to work on driving skillsets that are both common and uncommon to your locale.
When most training is broken down, we see a simple pattern of
Lecture: to impart knowledge and procedural information. This is where the student listens and learns
Skills: the student becomes familiar with one skillset, such as starting an IV or intubation (this is where the student does)
Simulation: the student combines the first two steps and the skills become sub-skills in this phase (this is where the student decides). This is known as the "Triangle of Training." Students today expect to see some form of simulation training. They have grown up in the age of multimedia learning and studies have shown that the learning curve improves dramatically when simulation is part of the program.
Departments that have implemented simulation training into their driver training programs have noticed major reductions in collisions; the Fire Department of New York EMS achieved a 38 percent reduction in intersection collisions within its first year (and a continued decrease each following year) of implementing its simulator.
Los Angeles City Fire Dept. was able to show a 59 percent reduction in both litigation payouts and cost of vehicle repairs after simulation was introduced into their program. Other departments around the country are having similar experiences and these departments are setting the benchmark for the evolution of driver training.
Be safe and remember to drive like your life depends on it.
About the author
Robert Raheb has been in the EMS field for 31 years and currently is the emergency response subject matter expert for FAAC, Incorporated. As a Firefighter in California, he became a paramedic working in NYC for 27 years and a NYS Instructor Coordinator for 21 years. Introduced to simulation training in 2003, Rob Raheb discovered he had an intuitive skill creating effective simulator training curricula. Realizing the benefits and potential training abilities this high-tech tool held, simulation training has added a new and exciting dimension to his vehicle training program and those benefits were obtained with a 38 percent reduction in intersection collisions within the first year and a steady decline every year since. Robert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.