195 – Benchmarking Driving Skills

In today’s episode, we continue with the second installment of our Best Practices for Protective Driver Training Series. The topic for part two is benchmarking driving skills. You can find part one here.

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Statistics indicate that the time an executive spends in their vehicle is without a doubt the highest risk period of their day. From a safety standpoint, this is borne out by the latest statistics on fatal vehicle crashes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 

Also, as serious practitioners have known for decades, statistics have indicated that the overwhelming majority of security incidents involving corporate executives – and high-profile individuals, including government and military, have occurred while the targeted individual was in or around their vehicle. Therefore, in the educated market of protective services, history and common sense dictate security practitioners address the incidents with the highest probability of occurrence, traveling by vehicle. 

When considering the risk of travel by vehicle, the safety and security of vehicle occupants during this most dangerous period of time are literally in the hands of the skilled Security Driver.

Looking at a security driver’s skill level – the ability of a driver to use 80% of the vehicle’s capability during an emergency maneuver has been a benchmark, accepted for more than 45 years by a large portion of the Corporate, High Net Worth community. 

Where did the 80% standard come from?

Starting in the mid-’70s, the Scotti School clients wanted, actually demanded, that they receive an objective measurement of their employee’s driving skill. The goal was to produce a professional security driver who has been scientifically measured to an objective and documented standard. 

The Scotti School studied the  Society of Automotive EngineersISO, and NHTSA research to meet that demand. Their research created an understanding of how drivers make decisions in emergencies and how long it takes them to make those decisions. The School found that these organizations created minimum standards, based on the laws of physics, for measuring driving skill and, therefore, survivability in an emergency scenario. Also, they decided that to perform the duties of a professional security driver; the minimum standards were not sufficient.

From their research, they found white papers and studies conducted by the Society of Automotive Engineers that indicated that the average driver, when confronted with an emergency, can only use 40% of the vehicle’s capability before they relinquish control of the vehicle (give up). 

Their on-track testing showed that at the 40% mark, the vehicle becomes non-linear, which in turn creates driver anxiety (fear). They also found that once the driver was at the 40% usage of the vehicle, there remained much more vehicle capacity available for the driver to use. After a considerable amount of testing and evaluating, they decided that a good driver should be able to use a minimum of 80% of the vehicle’s capability in the three modes of vehicle operation and in a measured minimum amount of time and space to be considered for employment as the CEO’s driver—hence the 80% standard. 

Here you can find more information concerning the origin of the 80% standard in the Science of Security Driving.

Comfort Zone

In creating the 80% standard, an important issue was how much of the vehicle does the security driver use in their daily driving routine, such as moving the principal from the home to the office with no emergencies. The research indicated that driving up to a stoplight and slowing the vehicle required the driver to use about 20 to 25% of the vehicle’s capability. Driving around a corner or onto an off-ramp required the driver to use 25 to 30% of the vehicle’s capability. The engineering community calls this the comfort zone.

But if an emergency popped up, accident, or vehicle violence, the driver would, within tenths of a second and a limited amount of space, have to use 80 to 90% of the vehicle’s capability. 

That’s what protective driver training is about, to get security drivers past their comfort zones. To create scenarios that require them to use a minimum of 80% of the vehicle. It is what separates the Security Driver from the Uber Driver. 

How does the number 80% of the vehicle’s capability translate to reality?

At 80% usage, a vehicle characteristic called Self-Aligning Torque presents itself to the driver. Self-Aligning Torque is the amount of effort or force needed to move the steering wheel. It is measured in pounds and is the vehicle’s way of communicating to the driver that everything is cool, no worries, or that you and the principal will be experiencing a lot of excitement in a few tenths of seconds.

The second signal communicated to the driver is the load the driver feels at the back of the seat (computer chip in the driver’s butt), which is high when the security driver is approaching 80% of the vehicle.

In both cases, the steering and your butt are receiving information. For some, interpreting this information is second nature, and for others, it’s like trying to understand Swahili. At the 80% mark, the car is telling us that it’s not going where we want it to go, but it is going in a path that it wants to go.

So, at a critical decision-making moment for the security driver, the computer chip in their butt is telling them one thing – high-energy pushing on their body, and their hands are feeling another, no or little steering response. And to make life more interesting – all this is happening in tenths of seconds. 

When Do You Use 80%

80% is not a vehicle usage that you would do on purpose; something has happened to force the driver to use more of the vehicle’s capability.

Something has happened to force drivers to use 80% and more of the vehicle.

Examples would be:

  • Car pulling out of an intersection, and the driver needs to react to the scenario to avoid hitting the car.  
  • A vehicle that has blocked the road the driver needs to maneuver around the vehicle.
  • It also could be a vehicle that has applied its brakes, and the driver has to brake and steer around the vehicle.  So basically, the is a scenario in the driver’s path while you’re moving, the vehicle is moving at speed, and the driver has a limited amount of time and space to avoid hitting whatever it is.  If this comes as a complete surprise, it is no question that you will be using a minimum of 80% of the vehicle.

At 80%, the vehicle has become very sensitive to drivers input. It may be hard to imagine a 4500-pound vehicle or a 10,000-pound armored vehicle described as sensitive. At this point, small changes in the speed or steering will create dramatic and dangerous increases in the vehicle’s stability. These are the laws of physics, all working overtime.

Also, consider this, if you or your principal weigh 200 pounds at 80% usage of the vehicle, there will be 160 pounds of force pushing on the both of you. Objects such as coffee cups, water bottles computer accessories will become flying objects.

Testing Driving Skills

No matter how good a driver thinks they are, unless they have been tested as to how much of the vehicle they can use, they do not know if they can use a minimum of 80% and above of the vehicle’s capability in an emergency. Testing and training are the only ways to accomplish this.

If you’ve attended a driver training program, you more than likely have driven through a slalom course. While maneuvering through a slalom course, as you move the steering wheel to drive around the cones, you are applying energy or force to the vehicle’s center of gravity.

As you drive through the slalom at various speeds, the amount of force exerted on the car increases as the speed increases, increasing the amount of force you place on the vehicle’s center of gravity. 

The instructor must explain the force you are applying to the vehicle. As mentioned, the vehicle reaction to this force is a signal – your instructor needs to be explaining what the vehicle is doing and instruct you on what you need to do with the information the vehicle is sending you. The amount of force you are applying to the vehicle center of gravity HAS TO BE measured.

This is not difficult to accomplish

If the force is not measured, you are not training; it is entertainment. Do not mistake adrenaline for education – because it’s exciting doesn’t mean you’ve learned anything.

The same is true of the lane-change exercise; in fact, it is one of the most challenging exercises to design.  It is not easy for a training provider to accurately measure the student’s vehicle usage and ability to control the vehicle, but it is imperative that they do.  The driver’s ability to use the vehicle capability can be measured accurately. There is no way it can be done without an onboard computer or the instructors that understand the science and math behind measuring vehicle performance; again, I repeat, if you are not being measured as you drive through the lane change, you are being entertained.

Save your money. Go to Disneyland and take a ride on space mountain.

Also, in the International Security Driver Association‘s opinion, the difference between good and great instructors is that great instructors understand the implications of the science of vehicle dynamics on the driving task in general. Specifically, on the exercise/scenario, the student is maneuvering through.

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