For the last two weeks, the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office has been training their deputies and staff on a new driving simulator that puts them behind the wheel in a safe, controlled environment.
According to Deputy Nick Sarisky of the sheriff's office's training unit, this DORON driving simulator was provided to the sheriff's office by the group that insures their vehicles, Local Government Risk Management Services.
He said that the simulator will go out to another law enforcement agency at the end of the month, but in the last weeks, they have been able to put every patrol deputy and many others through the different scenarios, making them safer, more attentive drivers.
"Our main goal is to try to avoid as many collisions as possible,” Sarisky said. “And they are constantly in their cars, constantly driving … if they get into a wreck, they aren't helping anybody."
The training begins with four scenarios about the mechanics of driving in the simulated world, how the vehicle accelerates, breaks and turns. But after that, Sarisky can put the person at the wheel through dozens of different scenarios, from exercises to avoid collisions to a simulated car chase ending in a pursuit immobilization tactic (PIT) maneuver.
In the simulation, if you crash into another car or wreck into a building or sign, you won't see GAME OVER like in a video game, but the windshield will shatter in a shower of pixilated shards and the simulation will be halted until the trainer restarts it.
"In the grand scheme of things, this is not a pass-fail scenario. We can always restart to let them try again," Sarisky said. "And if there’s a big safety issue or something we need to discuss, there's also the ability to replay scenarios and say, 'Hey, this is where you were at, this is how that car was approaching, this is how you are going to avoid the collision.’”
Sarisky said that they even have scenarios for the fire department and EMS to train their drivers too.
At about noon on Thursday, Sarisky put two members of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office’s crime scene unit through the simulation. Even though they won't be pulling anyone over in real life, he said it is important for them to know defensive driving tactics when driving in their county-issued and personal vehicles.
Breanna Reeves, who has been with the sheriff's office since May, drove through a scenario following a suspect in a red car, watching to see if it made any traffic violations.
For a few minutes, Reeves followed at a distance. She made several turns until the red vehicle blew through a stop sign at speed. Then it was go time.
Flipping on her sirens, she sped up and pulled the vehicle over without incident.
"It keeps you mindful because things will pop out in front of you," Reeves said. “You have to look at your mirrors, you have a seatbelt on. So it's trying to simulate a real car.”
Mariko Fujimura also spent several minutes going through several courses about turning and avoiding other vehicles and pedestrians.
"It's a lot different than driving," Fujimura said. "Because it doesn't drive like a real car, so I think we are still adjusting to how it handles … We don't have sirens in our cars, so this is new for us."
Even though the vehicle doesn't drive like a real car, she said the three screens and surround sound setup trick your brain into thinking you are actually driving.
With the limitations of a simulator, Fujimura said that the training drove home a powerful lesson on how fast situations can happen and how “blind spots” can happen when you get into a driving routine.
"It's good to know, it's scenarios that you don't run into every day, so it's something to keep in the back of your mind for your everyday driving," Fujimura said.
And that's what Sarisky said they are looking for from the training, not replacing the in-vehicle trainings they do, but helping deputies exercise the different muscle memories of driving tactics in a relaxed environment.
"This is a safe scenario, where we can run all of these types of driving techniques, defensive driving skills and they're not out on the open road," Sarisky said.