Systems of Car Control – Cop Driving Skills for the Average Joe

Decades of movies and urban myths have cemented into the mind of pretty much everyone that police are a force not to be messed with, especially when the men and women wearing uniforms are behind the wheel of a car. Operating in packs or by themselves, police officers rarely miss a prey they have set their eyes on. Extreme driving, close attention to every move performed while in a chase or simply the manner in which police officers go on patrol have managed to impress kids and grown-ups alike. Becoming a police officer, especially one working for traffic law enforcement, is not easy and requires more than passing the civilian drivers' license exam. Police have special departments in charge with teaching the officers driving skills not usually taught to civilians and have even developed their own approach to driving. Unfortunately for those hoping to see a guide to high speed chases, this is only a guide to the driving skills cops learn for everyday driving. Some of its elements, however, do apply to the chases you crave so much after. SHORT HISTORY
Police driving skills have begun their evolution prior to the beginning of the Second World War and have been improved ever since. It all began in the UK, where, forced by the high number of officers killed while on the road, authorities introduced the British Police Driving Schools. In about 20 years, they managed to bring down the number of casualties by about one sixth.

By the 1950s, the techniques have been compiled and introduced into a police manual called Roadcraft: The Police Driver's Handbook, one still in use half a century later, as required reading for any police officer in the making.

The UK roadcraft system, also know as systems of car control, is the only one in the world created by police for police. The others, including the one in the US, are derivatives from the civilian driving courses (this is why, in the US especially, more and more departments try to adapt the tips and skills in The Police Driver's Handbook to their needs).

More recently, in 1999, one group in the US called Advanced Drivers of America (ADA) began training civilians in the letter and spirit of the UK police manual. Here, we will be focusing on what you, as a civilian, should know before hitting the road, so that your driving skill approaches the one used, successfully, by police departments.


As any set of recommendations, the systems of car control are divided in stages. They comprise five main elements, essential (but often overlooked by most of us) for an effective and safe trip. These elements, commonly known as IPSGA, are listed below.


The information phase, regarded as the most important in the systems for car control techniques, requires the driver to be constantly aware of his surroundings, road conditions, position of the car or hazards on the road. It is from here that it all starts, as all the drivers will be required from this point on
will be to react to the information available.

The information phase is a continuous process and lasts for as much as you are behind the wheel. It requires the driver to always be aware of their car, the traffic, the weather conditions, the road condition and everything else that may interfere with your driving and/or safety.

For proper scanning of the road, the body of the driver behind the wheel should be positioned in such a way that it insures maximum visibility. Then, the position of the car itself on the road should also be one that may ensure maximum visibility (avoid driving, for instance, behind big rigs, even if, at times, you are tempted to do a bit of hypermiling).

The information phase will also make you aware of the car's position related to the other vehicles on the road, the speed of the car, the condition of the road surface, hazards on the roads and so on. It can be summed up, if you like, in four words: look, look, look, act.


The position phase comes as a natural evolution of the information phase. Depending on the elements listed above (and adding the car's speed, direction and the driver's intentions), the position of the car on the road should always be one that allows the proper response to any situation.

The position of the car (for instance, the lane), should always be changed when the driver experiences a loss of visibility, when the personal space of the driver and car are threatened in any way or when the road itself requires a change in position (like a bend, or road work ahead).


While on the road, you should always adapt the speed to the road and traffic conditions. Knowing the road and positioning the car in the right manner on the tarmac will almost unavoidably lead to the proper speed being used. Just like the position of the car, the speed is one element which is changed constantly throughout the trip. It also works hand in hand with position.

Knowing, for instance, that a bend in the road is approaching, the driver will position the car in the best lane to negotiate that bend. While doing so, he also adapts the speed of the car so that it correctly navigates through and exits in such a way that it insures both safety and a clean driving.


In modern days, adapting the speed of the car to the conditions of the road is not necessarily done by using the brakes. When the aforementioned bend approaches, for instance, you can use either the brake
pedal (if you do, make sure you only press it once, constantly, until the car reaches the required speed, and only then shift to the proper gear, not by going through each of them – 5, 4, 3 – but by shifting directly to the second, for instance, if that's the required gear), or the engine brake.

Braking using the engine can be done safely if the driver really knows what type of bend lies ahead (information phase). At the right distance, the driver can engage, for instance, the 2nd gear directly from the 5th, applying a little throttle at the same time to keep the car going, without actually accelerating (throttle input while downshifting is used to match the engine speed with the road speed).


Once the bend has been negotiated and only after the car is completely straightened out, you can then begin to apply full throttle. Giving the car a little gas while still in a bend is common practice among drivers and is usually used to help the car get back on track when the bend hasn't been properly approached. When the speed is right and the proper gear engaged, the only thing you would have to do is apply full throttle when the car exits the bend.


The elements listed above might not seem much and we have a feeling most of you believe you are already, instinctively, use the systems of car control. To prove you wrong, several organizations are currently teaching those willing to learn that the systems of car control they thought they knew are just a smoke screen. The best way to realize that you are not actually using roadcraft is to actually attend one of these courses, or have a peak at the two videos available above.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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