Cty. unveils new driving simulator for police

County hopes to limit police accidents through realistic training


Staff Writer

TOM CAIAZZA Sgt. Bob Phillips of the Old Bridge Police Department "test drives" the county's new police pursuit simulator during an unveiling at the county's training facility in Edison on March 15.TOM CAIAZZA Sgt. Bob Phillips of the Old Bridge Police Department “test drives” the county’s new police pursuit simulator during an unveiling at the county’s training facility in Edison on March 15. EDISON – Practice makes perfect, and Middlesex County Law Enforcement entities now have an opportunity to practice police pursuits in a controlled simulated environment, thanks to new technology purchased by the Middlesex County Freeholders.

The driving simulator, a 550LE interactive driving simulation system was purchased at the end of 2006 by the county at an approximate cost of $97,000. The system offers many different scenarios, various driving conditions and the feel of a real police cruiser to give officers an added level of training and experience in police pursuits without the risk of actual on-road testing or the cumbersome nature of course work.

“It gives an opportunity to experience and train for it, prepare for it,” said Middlesex County Freeholder Christopher D. Rafano. “It is one of the many things we have done to provide better training.”

The simulator, which is located at the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Training Center in Edison, gives officers high-resolution visuals, a seamless virtual-world driving layout, and digital voice instruction in the hopes that law enforcement officials will hone skills needed for safe police pursuit driving.

Sgt. Bob Phillips of the Old Bridge Police Department tested the simulator and said it is remarkably similar to its real-world counterparts.

“It’s very realistic,” Phillips said. “If you drive it too much, you can get car sick.”

Phillips said having a system like this, which is open to all law enforcement departments in the county, is a huge asset.

“This is invaluable,” Phillips said. “I have 22 years on the road. My whole perspective of driving has changed.”

The goal of the system is to reduce the crashes involving police cruisers.

Larry DeMayo, of Doron Precision Systems Inc., said that when Philadelphia law enforcement bought an earlier version of the machine, their police-involved crashes were reduced 20 percent, limiting their tort liability, over an eight-year period.

Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan said that he hopes all of Middlesex County’s law enforcement officers will take advantage of the added training, which is currently available without cost, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

According to Patrick Dacey, an investigator with the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, the machine re-creates many real-world conditions including rain, snow, night driving and road hazards such as impediments. A speaker under the seat creates realistic sounds and vibrations so officers can feel what driving on different types of terrain, such as uneven or rough roads, would feel like.

The machine also offers playback of the officer’s time behind the wheel, showing turning radius, and immediate feedback on how the officer can take part in a pursuit more safely and efficiently.

The system is currently being used to train those who will train the other officers to use it.

Kaplan said that there are no plans at the moment for any more machines.

“We’ll evaluate our need,” Kaplan said.

The 550LE will be available for all officers in 2007 for free; however, Rafano said that after that, there may be a nominal fee charged departments for upgrades and upkeep of the system.