Driver training is one of the most critical types of skill development that an EMS agency needs because, frankly, EMS drivers spend most of their time driving. This means the largest hazard can come from daily operation, whether driving in Code-3 mode or otherwise. Unfortunately, teaching vehicle control skills can often require a large amount of space, especially when you need to vary surface environments to imitate changing traction conditions.
But what if you could bring the environment to the vehicle rather than the other way around? What if you could do so in a manner that would allow you to create nearly infinite traction conditions in a space no larger than the parking lot at the local supermarket?
Enter SKIDCAR Systems and their revolutionary SKIDCAR training apparatus. SKIDCAR has been around since the 1980s and operates in 35 countries including the USA, but many departments are still learning about this system that could solve their driver training needs.
What’s a SKIDCAR?
I think it’s important to mention I’m a factory-trained SKIDCAR instructor, and I can completely attest to its effectiveness as a training tool. Simply put, the SKIDCAR is an electro-hydraulic, wheeled steel framework attached to the suspension of a vehicle that, through the use of an instructor-operated electronic controller, can be adjusted to simulate loss of front, rear or four-wheel grip at low speeds. This means the instructor can create subtle-to-extreme skid conditions at a low speed in a small geographic space.
The instructor uses a multi-featured, electronic controller from the front passenger seat area to adjust the grip. To grip ranges from full grip to zero grip on the front and rear tires independently from inside the vehicle, thereby creating a front, rear or four-wheel skid for the student.
The controller can easily be adjusted to change the vehicle’s grip to copy the handling characteristics of any vehicle. Front wheel skids (under steer) and rear wheel skids (oversteer) are easily programmed into the vehicle’s driving dynamics with the simple push of a button. You can adjust the vehicle from full grip on a dry street, to the feel of an icy roadway in moments. You can also fine-tune settings to replicate an EMS rig with multiple occupants, then switch to replicate an “empty” rig all in a matter of seconds.
How It Works
The SKIDCAR is attached to the suspension of the host vehicle. Mounting the frame in this way allows the vehicle’s suspension to function as designed, no matter the involvement of the hydraulic outriggers, making a realistic driving dynamic. This also means lateral and longitudinal weight distribution is appropriate, so you can reproduce proper driving dynamics. Once behind the wheel, the outriggers disappear from the driver’s sight lines, and most times the driver is unaware anything is under the car at all.
As a driver training instructor whose top priority is to administer effective training protocols that teach relevant and valuable skill sets, I can affirmatively state that the SKIDCAR gives an extremely realistic behind-the wheel-experience. Moreover, instructors can do so without modifying the training surface because it doesn’t change, surface grip for each student is consistent. Furthermore, creating slippery conditions that require 100% driver attention means students are subject to real dynamics, real emotions and real physical responses. Students may totally forget they’re traveling at only 10–20 mph.
Cost is a major factor as well because you won’t have to build a training surface or use a classroom. Once the system is installed, you can use it for years with minimal basic maintenance and no need for software updates, either. This last point is critical because, many times, departments can receive grant funds in a given year for equipment, but the equipment may not make it into service until a subsequent year when no budget is allocated toward maintenance, software updates, etc. Because the SKIDCAR is fairly basic in design, that means less parts, less downtime or need for high-maintenance budgets. In today’s times, that fact is more relevant than ever.
The Sense Behind the SKID
Skidding may seem fun, but it’s not fast or necessarily safe, especially when the driver at the wheel has received minimal training if any (i.e., the typical American driver). But even if you’ve had skid control training, properly controlling a vehicle at its limit takes lots of regular practice, and even the best drivers can struggle. Therefore, rather than be reactive in nature, the SKIDCAR is a proactive tool that teaches drivers to sense and correct little skids before they become monster big skids. So, the basic teaching philosophy at SKIDCAR is to teach students to build a sensitive relationship (I know, I sound like Dr. Phil) with the vehicle, to avoid major car control situations.
This makes sense considering the leading cause of crashes is driving too fast for prevailing conditions, whether they’re environmental, personal or vehicular. By conducting this training at low speeds, it allows students to completely focus on sensing skids in a progressive manner rather than be distracted by excessive speed or a surface that’s so slick from excessive watering that it’s impossible to create or manage realistic car control.
SKIDCAR also works with modern traction control and stability control systems, which can be invaluable to teaching EMS drivers about those systems in a controlled, safe environment. As I have said before, if you don’t know the passive and active safety systems on your rig, you’re basically playing Russian roulette. It’s far smarter and safer to learn the systems and use them to your advantage than to adopt a “spray-and-pray” approach.
According to SKIDCAR, a space of 175’ x 500’ is ideal for practice, but because this size area isn’t always available, you can use many other paved areas. I’ve trained in smaller areas without issues, so narrow airport runways, odd shaped lots, areas with broken pavement, frost heaves and pot holes, for example, can be used. Basically, if you can find a spot approximately the size of a few tennis courts side by side, you can find a way to use a SKIDCAR.
Because SKIDCAR makes systems for everything from trucks to patrol vehicles to EMS rigs and fire trucks, cost varies accordingly. But when comparing the purchase to the cost of finding land and building a track on it, it’s much more economical. More importantly, by teaching your EMS drivers how to sense impending front, rear and four-wheel skids, and how to adjust their driving accordingly, you’re actively helping prevent catastrophic incidents from occurring. For more information, contact SKIDCAR at 866-SKIDCAR (754-3227)