Vehicle Dynamics and Training

Vehicle Dynamics are two words you often see mentioned in training curriculums, RFP’s and on websites. There seems to be a misunderstanding of exactly what the phrase means and how vehicle dynamics affect security driving, secure transportation, and protective driver training. For example, many training programs include “vehicle dynamics exercises. In fact, Vehicle Dynamics is not just “an exercise”; it is the foundation of any driver training program. Especially a protective driver training program. 

Whether driving down the highway, around corners or trying to navigate out of a potentially dangerous scenario, the vehicle driver combination must operate within the laws of physics and specifically within Sir Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion. 

An understanding of vehicle dynamics creates the platform for a standard for one of the most important aspects of executive protection – secure transportation.

It is ISDA’s opinion that many training providers take liberty with the phrase Vehicle Dynamics. This opinion is not a criticism but an observation.

Vehicle Dynamics is a scientific and objective approach to Secure Transportation, Security Driving, and Training.

The standard explanation of Vehicle Dynamics used by groups such as the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) demonstrates that this is a fact, not just an opinion.

VEHICLE DYNAMICS – Vehicle Dynamics is the application of the laws of physics to a vehicle in motion.

Dynamics allows the driver trainer to create a program that withstands the burden of proof; A knowledge of Vehicle Dynamics allows the professional driving instructor to train to a standard – design scenario-based driving exercises and objectively measure vehicle/student performance. When considering the life-saving skills that driver training supplies, applying science to the driver training process creates a researched-driven program. In reality, Vehicle Dynamics is the foundation of all driver training programs; an individual or organization cannot alter physics laws that vehicle dynamics is based upon.

Also, in-depth knowledge of vehicle dynamics creates a disciplined approach to driver training – ensuring that instructors can supply training based on engineering and forensic data principles – not on guesswork. They will have the knowledge and skill to test all driving scenarios for accuracy – measure max speed – the path the vehicle takes – vehicle performance – desired output from the scenario – and determine the cause of an event followed by the solution. 

For ANY given scenario, an instructor can determine what combination of speed and steering and/or braking creates problems. From that Knowledge, they can drive the student past their comfort zone and coach them through this hazardous scenario. 

Training Points

The skills needed to avoid accident or ambush scenarios are not measurable with the naked eye. With the knowledge of vehicle dynamics and the science of driving, an instructor can interpret data produced from onboard computers. Apply the numbers to an equation that defines the Science of Driving.

If vehicle dynamics are not applied to driver training, it creates ill-informed opinions; driver training must be research-driven. When it is based on personal opinion, dozens if not hundreds of things can and do go badly wrong.

Measuring Skill: The importance of measuring skill cannot be ignored. All data indicates that in an accident or ambush, the difference between success and failure is measured in tenths of a second and an increase of 2 MPH. You cannot measure that sitting in the passenger seat. Your performance needs to be monitored at all times, and corrections need to be made based on objective data.

What separates the average instructor from a good instructor is the ability to design driving exercises that meet the program’s goals and objectives. An average instructor puts the cones on the orange dots. The good instructor knows why the orange dots are separated by X distance and what will happen if you change them.

Vehicle Dynamics and Standards

An understanding of vehicle dynamics develops a platform to create a standard for one of the most important, if not the most important, aspects of executive protection secure transportation.

A great deal of research has been done and data collected on the minimum standards that define a driver’s capability and skill. These studies are conducted by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and prestigious universities. The research results and the advancements made in measuring driving skills have made survivability in an emergency more possible.

The research defines driving skills as the driver’s “ability” to use the vehicle’s “capability.” In-depth knowledge of vehicle dynamics allows the instructor to use this research to define driver ability in vehicle capability. Vehicle dynamics is not nice to know; if conducting a high-end protective driving program, it is something the instructor must know.

The Problem

Most information about vehicle dynamics is produced by engineers, written in a language not intended for public consumption. The data they produce is written so other engineers can understand their research. 

Most people shy away from using vehicle dynamics and the laws of physics as a training tool because of the math it requires. This may well be because, for most people, their only exposure to the laws of physics is what they were taught in high school, where the subject is mired in books and often seems to have no practical value. 

As we have been mentioning quite a bit lately, there is a significant change in vehicle characteristics in general and specifically in executive vehicles. Understanding the dynamics of all these changes and how they affect security driving and secure transportation requires a basic understanding of vehicle dynamics. 

An example of applying the laws of physics and vehicle dynamics to training:

Vehicle Dynamics and Cornering Power   

Cornering is the amount of centrifugal force the car can generate measured in Gs and expressed as Lateral Acceleration. For example, in a recent Motor Trend article, the BMW 740i was measured to have .91 G of Lateral Acceleration/Cornering Power (high for a sedan). Gs is a measurement of the force exerted on the center of gravity of the vehicle. The higher the Gs, the more force the vehicle can absorb, which means more cornering power is available to the driver.

Most magazines get their cornering power number via a Skid Pad, which is driving in a circle with a known radius and increasing the speed until they cannot keep the car on the radius. To ensure accurate results, the magazine tests the vehicles with computers that measure Lateral Acceleration. The instrumentation used by car magazines tends to get expensive, but for very little money, $170, you can get an accurate device called a G Meter to measure the vehicle’s Lateral Acceleration/Cornering Power. Or for 99 cents, you can download a G Meter to your Smart Phone, and/or you can apply a simple equation (5th-grade math required) to a slalom exercise and get accurate results. ISDA use all three methods and compare the results. 

Training and Cornering

A driving instructor has to know the Lateral Acceleration/Cornering Power of the vehicle, measured in Gs. If the instructor does not know what the vehicle is capable of – how would they know what the driver is capable of? When attending a training program, we suggest asking the instructor, “What is the vehicle’s cornering power?” They should have an answer. You would find some exercises in a security driving program, ramming being one of them, where this information is not needed. But if the course has a slalom – evasive exercises – lines and apexes – high-speed driving, for example, and the instructor does not know the vehicle’s cornering power capability, or worse, does not know the lateral acceleration, and how to measure it, any critiquing by the instructor relative to those exercises is a guess and not even an educated guess.

Understanding these aspects of Vehicle Dynamics is crucial in presenting a quality training program. With these aspects applied adequately in the training program and conveyed properly to the student, everyone will better understand what each vehicle can and cannot do, and most importantly, what the student is capable of doing with that vehicle in these situations.

If you’d like to learn more about vehicle dynamics and the science of driver training, we suggest that you review Vehicle Dynamics Institute’s (VDI) Joe Autera series “The Science of Driver Training”. The articles are on the VDI website.

These are the links:  

The Science of Driver

Training – Part I

The Science of Driver

Training – Part II

Science of Driver Training

– Part III

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