It’s the scariest car ride I’ve ever taken. Memories of the roughest rides on the Exhibition midway come flooding back. My stomach is doing cartwheels. My fingers are digging into the sides of the seat. My knuckles turn white.
Behind the wheel of this big, white Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor sits Cpl. Brad Lisson, a driving instructor with the police driving unit at the RCMP depot division in Regina. I’m riding shotgun.
And what a ride it is!
My thick shoulder belt holds me tightly in the front passenger seat. It digs into my left shoulder, then my right one, over and over again, as the car lurches from side to side.
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The tires squeal and smoke. The engine and transmission grunt and groan. Lisson jams the brake pedal on, and we shoot to an abrupt halt. He floors the gas pedal and we take off. The mighty Crown Victoria is pushed to its limits.
These cars are used to being pushed. The Police Interceptor version of the Crown Victoria differs from the civilian version. It has a better cooling system, a higher-compression engine, higher top speed, more ground clearance and heavy-duty shock absorbers.
Cpl. Lisson is in complete control of the car.
He weaves the big, powerful Crown Vic around pylons, over hills and through hairpin turns at high speeds as if it were a two-seater sportscar. “There are only three ways you can control a car: gas, brakes or steering. We teach the basics of smooth acceleration, smooth braking and smooth steering.”
Lisson demonstrates how to make quick turns safely, how to back into a garage or narrow alley, how to drive safely through a red light at an intersection if you must, which entails driving into the on-coming lane.
He has obviously done this many times over. He shifts smoothly into reverse, then carefully, and extremely quickly, backs through sets of pylons. The orange cones seem to be moving faster and faster and getting closer and closer. Miraculously, he doesn’t touch a single cone.
Meanwhile, Lisson is explaining what new recruits go through. They fill out a form indicating how much driving experience they have, what kinds of vehicles they drive, and how they assess their own driving. In the first 12 weeks of their training, they’re out on the test track three times.
“We don’t teach people how to drive. We try to convert them from a civilian driver, where you go from point A to point B, to a police driver, where you have to drive from point A to point B, but you have to be observant because you’re doing policing duties.
“There are lots of tasks inside the car, like talking on the police radio, and operating the lights and siren. There may be a prisoner in the back seat. Officers may have to be thinking about what to do when they get to the location of the call, and how they’re going to coordinate with other emergency vehicles that’ll be there.”
Recruits must drive through the circuit on each of the three tracks within a certain time, without crossing painted lines or knocking over pylons. Or they need more coaching and practice until they can do it with complete success.
Despite their intense driver training, RCMP officers do get in accidents.
“The biggest reason why police officers get in trouble is because they get distracted. which is the same as for everyone. Police officers have more distractions in their cars and they have to learn to deal with them. Police officers get into collisions for the same reasons as anyone; it’s inattentive driving and poor decision-making.
“We can’t teach common sense.”