209 – The State of Security Driver Training

A tragic video has been circulating throughout various social media. It took place at Fort Tiuna in Caracas, Venezuela. The video is from a bodyguard training program. This terrible event brings to light a problem – which is the state of security driver training. 

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The Driver Training Tragedy

The video shows an SUV backing up and performing a J-turn with a trainee hanging out the backseat passenger window. As the SUV began the turn, it flipped over, landing on the trainee. 

The many social media posts produced a multitude of comments. By far, the best and most accurate comes from Ivan Ivanovich. I hope I am pronouncing his name correctly. Ivan wrote – “The training market has become an amusement park,” – which aligns with what we have been saying for many years; when we look at some of the security driver training programs, we wonder – “is it training; or is it entertainment.”

Flipping a Vehicle is Not Uncommon

A video of an SUV flipping and rolling over during a j turn maneuver is not uncommon. However, this Caracas training video ranks up as one of the largest doses of instructor incompetence the ISDA has seen in many years, and we have been involved in the driver training profession for close to half a century. 

This tragedy is symptomatic of a problem that needs discussion

Has the Security Driver training market become an amusement park? Are Security Driver training providers more concerned about entertaining students rather than educating them?. These are questions, not comments. We would like to know what you think.

Our Thoughts

The following are our thoughts concerning the incident – why we think it happened – and what can be done in the future to prevent this from occurring. 

But before we do that, we need to make a point. When you consider the number of training programs conducted and the number of students that attended those programs, the security driver training profession has a good safety record.

Instructors Must Understand the Vehicle’s Characteristics

When using an SUV or a short-wheelbase vehicle for training purposes, it is imperative that the instructors understand the vehicle’s characteristics and conduct their training within the vehicle’s capabilities. One of the most critical vehicle characteristics when conducting driver training exercises, specifically exercises that apply high loads on the vehicle’s center of gravity, such as the J Turn, is the vehicle’s Static Stability Factor (SSF). The Static Stability Factor is how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determines a vehicle’s rollover probability. 

Static Stability Factor (SSF)

The SSF is a vehicle safety characteristic that affects the outcome of any driver training exercises that creates a high spike of force pushing on the vehicle in a short span of distance and time. A low SSF rating – combined with a high energy spike, creates the possibility of a rollover. 

Just think of the phrase “vehicle’s rollover probability”. If a trainer is putting students in a vehicle and training them to put high loads on a vehicle’s CG, wouldn’t you think that is a number they should know? 

What is a good Static Stability Factor (SSF)?

The vehicle used in the Caracas training disaster was an older Toyota 4Runner. The 4Runner earned a 3-star (out of 5) rating from NHTSA, which translates to the vehicle having a 20 to 30% rollover risk. That is near the top of the list of vehicles most likely to roll in an accident. Unfortunately, the vehicle has been known to roll over at speeds under 40mph when a driver performs an evasive maneuver. 

  • Five stars: less than 10 percent chance of a rollover
  • Four stars: 10 to 20 percent chance of a rollover 
  • Three stars: 20 to 30 percent chance of a rollover 
  • Two stars: 30 to 40 percent chance of a rollover 
  • 1 star: greater than 40 percent chance of a rollover

So what are the NHTSA SSF Star Ratings for some of the common Executive Vehicles?

  • Mercedes S Series is five stars or a less than 10 percent chance of a rollover.
  • Lincoln Navigator 4 stars or a 10 to 20 percent chance of a rollover
  • The Chevy Suburban is three stars or a 20 to 30 percent chance of a rollover.
  • A Mercedes Sprinter Van comes in with a 1 star or a greater than 40 percent chance of a rollover.

The Toyota 4Runner

As an indication of the propensity of the 4Runner to rollover, there is a law firm that has a website called rolloverlawyer.com. They have written about the 4Runner.

The 4Runner is not the only vehicle with a 20 to 30% rollover risk. In fact, the vehicle most often used in Executive Security, the Suburban also has the same rollover risk. 

How bad can it get? A Mercedes Benz Sprinter Van, a vehicle also often used in Executive Transportation, has a rollover probability of 30 to 40%.

Should Not be a Surprise

This should not be a surprise, but the vehicles mentioned above do not roll over by themselves. If you are driving 40 MPH down a road in a straight line, they don’t suddenly roll over, literally leaving the driver hanging there.

So we are not saying you don’t transport your executive in these vehicles or conduct training with them. As we have been teaching for half a century, we suggest that as a security driver or trainer, you know what the vehicle is capable of and, more importantly, what it’s not capable of.  

Education vs. Entertainment

Also, we have watched other videos of driver training programs doing J Turns on wet surfaces. You cannot do a J turn on a low friction surface and expect the same results on a high friction surface. Again, we ask – is it education or entertainment? 

All that being said, here is a simple undeniable fact, the 4Runner, Suburban, and Sprinter do not roll over without input from the driver, and in the case of training, without instruction from the instructor. 

Executive Vehicle Safety

See Podcast episode 205 – Executive Vehicle Safety and Car Specifications

That podcast episode covers a phenomenon that affects driver training safety called –    Drivers Perception of Speed. Research has found that the “average” driver is 15% off; they drive 15% faster than they think they are, and the higher you sit in the vehicle, the worse it is. This issue also has implications for training. When conducting any driving exercise, it is imperative that a radar gun or onboard computer accurately measure the student’s speed and that the instructor can communicate that information to the student.

Who are the Instructors?

This brings us to what is being taught and who is teaching it. There are training programs that teach security driving, and then there is the type of training program that provides entertainment. Those who purchase training need to know the difference between training and entertainment.  

When we look at the Caracas video, we cannot grasp why a student is hanging out the window while the driver is implementing a J Turn. It makes no sense. We wouldn’t be talking about this if a student was not hanging out a window. It would be just another incompetent instructor conducting a driver training program.

Understand the Vehicle Dynamics

ISDA believes those who teach security driver training must have a fundamental understanding of the science of vehicle dynamics and its application to training. Great instructors can design scenario-based exercises and accurately measure the student’s level of competence to a documented standard. 


We cannot discuss security driver training without discussing the type and age of the vehicle used in training programs. Doing a J turn or, for that matter driving through a lane change in an older sedan or SUV that does not have Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) bears no resemblance to conducting those same exercises in a vehicle equipped with ADAS, and all current executive vehicles have ADAS. 

ADAS affects backing up, ramming, slalom exercises, braking, and lane changes. All three functions of the vehicle, go, stop and turn, are monitored by a computer programmed with an algorithm that will take control of the car if the information coming into the computer is contrary to a vehicle’s safe operation. A J Turn is contrary to the safe operation of a vehicle – a professional driving instructor should know that.

What are your thoughts on Ramming, PIT, J, and Bootleggers turns? 

Remember that vehicles equipped with ADAS will make it difficult, if not impossible, to perform these maneuvers. For example – training a student to ram in a vehicle not equipped with a Forward Collision Warning (FCW) system will not be the same as ramming in a vehicle equipped with FCW.

When looking at driver training and the skills necessary to drive at the highest level, there has been a great deal of research, money spent, and data collection that allows us to understand better how drivers make decisions in emergencies. and how long it takes them to make the decisions that determine success or failure. The end result of all this research is the advancements that have been made in measuring driving skills and, therefore, survivability in an emergency scenario. Ensure that those training you understand the science of driving.

Podcast episode 192 – Best Practices for Protective Driver Training.

We hope this has supplied you with some food for thought.

Join the ISDA

If you have an interest in going much deeper into this type of topic, I invite you to check out the International Security Driver Association’s website and consider joining the only organization dedicated to supporting the advancement of professional Security Drivers and other protection practitioners with data-driven research and other professional development tools.

For more information on all member benefits, head over to https://isdacenter.org.

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