Driving simulator provides safe learning


Tyler Payne / The Chart

Kyle Putnam, a criminal justice graduate, drives a simulated police car.

It’s just like a real car. But it’s not.

The School of Technology purchased a driving simulator late last year for law enforcement training. The car has a regular steering wheel, a typical dashboard, the usual gear stick and characteristic gas and break pedals. Rather than glass, though, the windshield is instead three plasma television screens that give a 180 degree view ahead of the “vehicle.”

There also isn’t a frame, but for driving safety training, it really doesn’t need one.

“This is basically just a demo,” said Jason Sharp, Criminal Justice Seminary coordinator. “It gives you a feel of how it handles…all the functions are the same as a regular car.”

Though the simulator seems like a giant video game, it actually handles more realistically. Driving into a curb will jerk the steering wheel.

Also, Sharp can manipulate the weather during the training. He can add snow, sun glare, fog, wind gusts and change the time of day.

For now, the simulator is used to train law    enforcement in a four-hour class.

“We’d like to integrate this into the Academy and have them spend time in it before they train with an actual car,” Sharp said.

There are 200-250 scenarios that come preprogrammed, and Sharp can create more. He is working with Criminal Justice Professor Tim Wilson to build pursuit scenarios that end with the “fugitive” exiting their vehicle and fleeing on foot. Trainees would then exit the simulator and step over to the Firearms Training System and engage in a gunfire simulation.

However, because the simulator is still new, they haven’t fully used its benefits to the local area yet.

“I’m looking at other ways we can use it and get it out to the community,” Sharp said. He would like to use it for student driver’s education in the future.

He also said sometimes the best lesson for a trainee to learn is when to quit. That’s why there are a few “no win” scenarios programmed.

“There are some who get the mindset, ‘I’ve got to apprehend, I’ve got to apprehend,’ and they continue with lights and siren without a suspect, which you can’t do,” Sharp said.

Besides police pursuit scenarios, the simulator also offers fire truck and ambulance settings.