The Chattanooga, Tennessee, Police Department hopes to cut down on maintenance costs and reduce the number of accidents involving officers with a new driving simulator unit. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that the department's new L3Harris PatrolSim simulator's interior setup, with a driver's seat facing a dashboard, steering wheel, and laptop in front of a panel of screens, is a near replica of the inside of patrol cars Chattanooga police officers use every day.
The technology cost the department $130,700.
Slashing Costs with New Technology
In 2022, the department spent more than $5 million maintaining its patrol cars, according to data the Times Free Press obtained through a public records request. Data shows the agency spent around $3.4 million on maintenance in 2021, and just under $5 million in 2020. The department has 616 cars in its fleet, which is made mostly of marked patrol cars.
Department data revealed that between 2020 and 2022, patrol cars were involved in 362 accidents — 150 in 2022, 116 in 2021, and 96 in 2020. Thirty-two officers and civilians were hurt in those accidents. Assistant Chief Jerri Sutton said most accidents involving patrol cars were minor.
Training Drivers to Use Other Vehicles
The simulator can also replicate other vehicles like armored SWAT trucks, which allows drivers to start training on those before getting behind the wheel of one, police lieutenant said at a recent media briefing.
Department administrators plan to use the unit for routine training for both new and existing officers, as well as for remedial training for officers who get into accidents or have other issues with their driving.
When in use, training officers sit outside the simulator room, controlling things like road conditions and other drivers that appear on the screens, as well as the car's brakes and air conditioning.
The simulator provides a report after a training session, identifying the driver's mistakes and ways to improve.
Real-World Safety Changes
Chattanooga PD's patrol vehicles have also been equipped with new gear that may help reduce accidents on the way to calls, Assistant Chief Jerri Sutton told the Times Free Press.
Those include new external sirens, low-frequency rumblers, and light bars that were installed on top of all patrol cars beginning in November 2022. Sutton believes the new gear should make responding officers more audible and visible to other drivers.
Sue Poole, Chattanooga PD's fleet and facilities manager, said patrol vehicles — which have long had blue emergency lights — now have red lights as well to make them easier to see at all times of day and for people with colorblindness. Government Fleet previously reported that Virginia State Police recently made a similar change to its patrol vehicle lights after a team of researchers from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute revealed the use of red lights had a positive impact on traffic behavior.
The department plans to study how the new equipment affects accidents and evaluate their performance after a year of use.
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