Photo Gallery: Williamstown Police Emergency Driving Training


WILLIAMSTOWN -- Local police officers were among the first in New England to be behind the wheel of a state-of-the-art emergency driving simulator this week.

Members of the Williamstown Police Department participated in the emergency training on Monday and Wednesday. The service was provided free of charge by the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association (MIIA), the town's property and casualty insurance provider.

Located in an unassuming 30-foot trailer parked behind the police station, the new computer-driven simulator can replicate more than 150 driving conditions that operators of police cruisers, fire trucks, ambulances and municipal vehicles may run into.

Jennifer Ranz, MIIA spokesperson, said the equipment was upgraded two weeks ago. Staff training was held last week, she said, and the simulator hit the road for the first time Monday.

"We're trying to get you to think about safety issues associated with driving," David Bastien, lead public safety driving instructor with the MIIA, told officers Wednesday. "Recognizing the dangerous aspects of who is out there, what populations don't drive as well."

Officers first participated in an hour-and-a-half of classroom instruction, which outlined numerous emergency driving tactics. Bastien, a former police officer in Warwick, R.I., noted police can face distractions while driving just like civilians can. He shared an anecdote of one police officer speeding to a call who struck a vehicle at an intersection because he was reaching down to pick up his radio microphone.

"It's about decision making," he said. "If we're approaching an intersection, is it time to pick up that microphone, or clear the intersection and then pick it up?"

A large portion was spent on how to safely pursue a vehicle without endangering other motorists and pedestrians. Bastien also noted the difference between emergency driving and pursuit driving.

Each officer then got the chance to spend roughly 15 minutes behind the wheel of the simulator.

The operator can place the driver in different scenarios, from pursuing a vehicle that ran a red light to apprehending a suspected drunk driver. Different weather conditions and visibility -- including light to heavy snow and rain, fog, and darkness -- affects the simulation difficulty and vehicle handling.

First in the driver's seat was Officer Shaun William, who after becoming acquainted with the controls, received his mission in an urban environment: A red Audi station wagon was fleeing from the scene of a burglary.

A mission handled by Officer John McConnell, on a rural road similar to one in South Williamstown, involved him responding to an accident between a dump truck and tractor-trailer.

The town becomes eligible to receive insurance premium credits through the MIIA Rewards Programs, reducing its property and casualty insurance costs, after officers complete the program. MIIA statistics show an average of a 10 to 25 percent reduction in accident frequency following completion of the driving safety course.

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