Capt. Dan Barnett climbed behind the wheel and sped off toward an emergency - and then another and another.
But the cruiser that the Columbia County sheriff's captain controlled had no wheels, engine or body. It still made him motion-sick every time he turned.
The steering wheel was connected to a DORON Precision 450 LE driving simulator that nearly 25 other law enforcement officers trained on recently after four hours of defensive-driving classroom instruction from David Trotter, a public safety driving instructor from Local Government Risk Management Services.
"They get to see the consequences of their actions and hopefully remember that when they get out on the road," Trotter said of the virtual training.
Simulator time is the final step in a decision-based defensive driving course geared toward law enforcement personnel.
Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Dan Barnett takes a spin in a driving simulator Thursday during a defensive driving course taught by Local Government Risk Management Services.
Photo by Valerie Rowell
The training puts drivers in the seat during simple situations to get used to how the simulator responds. Then, officers face more daunting tasks, such as chasing a burglary suspect, navigating intersections while responding to an emergency and avoiding barriers while traveling at high speed.
"If you can't get there, you can't help," said Barnett, a 27-year law enforcement veteran who has attended the Emergency Vehicle Operations Course before in Forsyth, Ga. "To help, you have to be able to arrive on the scene. Driving smart is better than fast."
The classroom training covers Georgia requirements on regular and emergency response driving, vehicle handling, physical driving conditions and driving techniques to use during emergency response situations. Trotter can simulate traffic and weather conditions through more than 80 scenarios.
When deputies get into a simulator with an instructor watching, their worst fear is doing something wrong, causing them to fail and be embarrassed, Barnett said. He was a little nervous despite his 18 years with the sheriff's office.
Deputies put between 30,000 and 50,000 miles on their cruisers each year, meaning that their chances of being involved in a wreck is higher than the average driver. But there is a difference between at-fault and not-at-fault accidents, Barnett said.
The sheriff's office receives about 500 deer-related accident calls per year. A deputy in rural areas of the county can see up to 80 deer a night, which can be a serious driving hazard, Barnett said.
He found that out when he "hit" one at high speed in the simulator.
"We are in Columbia County, aren't we," he laughed. "It is humiliating and embarrassing, but it's fun."
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