For Hall County Sheriff’s Office training director Lt. Michael Myers, Wednesday was another afternoon behind the wheel burning rubber.
The exercise in drifting didn’t require a lot of space, or even speed — just two attachable rings.
“It’s very safe, you don’t have to go more than 20 miles per hour,” Myers said. “You get an average of about 80 hours of wear on these rings, and they’re less than $1,500.”
Since implementing the skid wheel technology called “Easydrift” this summer, the sheriff’s office can imitate treacherous driving conditions more easily, effectively and cost-efficiently than ever, he said.
“You just lift the car, deflate the tire, and put on the ring,” Myers explained.
Made available in 2009, the driver training system was invented by a former race car driver with a background in engineering.
The concept is basic physics: Two of the smooth rings are secured around the back tires, and as the speedometer approaches 20, the car is sent spinning with the frictional force that normally accompanies 80 or 90 mph driving conditions, or slippery places.
“Reminds you of a hot wheel, don’t it?” Myers asked with a grin.
Yet before the device came along, far more exhaustive efforts were employed, like space-guzzling skid pads and hydraulic systems that evoke shopping-cart-style training wheels. The training academy still uses such technology.
“In the academy, what we have is a skid car. Basically what it does is we’ve got a wet pad they drive on, and we’ve got hydraulics hooked up to the back brakes, and when the cadet starts to turn, we can hit a button and induce a slide that way. It’s a lot more expensive than this, and the vehicle dynamics are just not the same,” he said.
Skid wheels instill skills like counterturning, proper pause to braking and hand-eye coordination, but the weight of the equipment alters the car’s feel and handling, Myers said.
“You’re adding 2,300 pounds to every corner of the car, so the dynamics of the car totally change because now all of (a) sudden you’ve got this outrigger weight on every corner of the car,” he said. “Yes, it teaches you how to countersteer, but it doesn’t give you all the pieces.”
Perhaps most important are the low, safe speeds, Myers said, recalling an incident of a car flipping during a private driving safety course.
Myers also instructs a teen driving course, which is how he came to know about the technology.
After becoming certified to teach students and other instructors, he approached Sheriff Gerald Couch with the idea to bring Easydrift to Hall County.
“He came out, and we (demonstrated) it, and he was really pleased with what he’d seen. He felt like it could make our officers a little bit safer drivers,” Myers said.
With car accidents being the most likely cause of accidental death and injury for officers, keeping deputies in tiptop driving shape is a point of emphasis for the sheriff’s office and agencies around the country.
The Gainesville Police Department uses skid pads and computer-simulated driving to help officers practice keeping control on four wheels, spokesman Cpl. Kevin Holbrook said.
“We realize if something’s predictable, it’s preventable, and a lot of these line-of-duty deaths are from car accidents,” he said. “There’s too many of us getting hurt in automobile accidents, so that’s a big push in having this.”
Often, Myers said, it only takes him a few minutes to see the key mistake a driver is prone to making when trying to regain control in a tailspin, and feedback from deputies has been positive, with many saying they became better drivers after a short session.
“The ones that have taken the class said it’s some of the best hands-on training they’ve gotten since they became an officer,” he said.
“Literally, you just need a small parking lot,” Myers said. “Now that we have these, any of our officers that’s out driving a car will get this training. We’ll obviously start with the ones who drive the most, which will be patrol division, and go from there.”