As an EVOC instructor who sat in the passenger seat on some of the busiest roadways on earth (the streets & highways of New York City) with some of the most inexperienced drivers (urban kids who travelled by subways their whole lives), knowing just what your student driver is doing would be a big relief. Some years ago, my partner and I discussed a video we had seen on commentary driving and realized then the potential benefits this type of training would have on reducing crashes and improving the skill level of drivers. Whether you are training the student in emergency or routine driving, commentary driving is a technique worth utilizing.
Commentary driving is telling a story, a very detailed story that is constantly changing. The objective of this training is to get the students to think about the driving environment. Telling you beforehand what they see, what they’re thinking, what they’re planning to do, and what they are doing at the moment. It’s a proven method. I’ve used it on students and have seen its benefits. As my Lieutenant use to say, “it’s another tool in the toolbox”.
As an instructor, you need to demonstrate what you will be looking for from your drivers, preferably while driving in a common environment that the student will be evaluated in. Your students do not have to be articulate, but will have to communicate quickly and effectively. In addition, this method will help you determine the student’s anxiety level. In evaluating students, many different driving tasks can be monitored. For example, proper following distance, speed awareness, escape paths, use of mirrors, traffic sign recognition, etc. Make sure classroom presentations correlate with your street driving assessments. Have retraining programs address the common crash scenarios your department administrators are concerned about. In urban areas where there is so much to observe, the method teaches the student officer what situations need to be prioritized. In rural areas, the method instructs the officer on how to read the road and drive safely when the roadway curves, dips, elevates, banks, etc. In highway driving, the method evaluates the student’s ability to recognize escape paths, identify potential conflicts, and observe driver behaviors when being approached with or without emergency warning devices on.
As police officers, we are trained to be observant. These observation skills come naturally to some, and in others they need to be developed. With better observation skills come quicker reaction times, and safer, more effective policing. (See www.policedriver.com and read the reaction time article). I believe that every department should consider commentary driving and include it in their driver training curriculum. Instructors should consider this approach, first and most importantly as a safety issue, and secondly to develop the observation skills necessary to turn out qualified, safe drivers. Commentary training methods can also benefit the other skill disciplines, such as firearms training, and defensive tactics.