PIERRE, SD -
The South Dakota highway patrol is training 13 new recruits to fill vacancies around the state, but before they're assigned cars and equipment, they’ll spend more than twenty weeks training in the classroom and the field.
Those thirteen recruit troopers train in Pierre for a different kind of driving. It’s the kind they'll encounter sooner or later on the road.
"We do what we do out here to prevent accidents when they do get on the road," South Dakota Highway Patrol senior driving instructor Cory Johnson said.
Johnson says its important recruits have as much time behind the wheel as possible.
"When you're at these high rates of speed, the vehicles do not respond and drive the same as the daily driver just going to and from work," Johnson said.
Recruit trooper Jerry Kastein says he's been driving since he was 14-years-old, but he's never driven like this.
"We've never pushed a vehicle to its limits before or never pushed ourselves to our limits so this gives us the opportunity to learn that," Kastein said.
"You've got to be using all the skills you're trained and you've got to be aware that the violator you're chasing, he has nothing to lose. He will not be following the rules of the road and he will be putting the public’s life in danger," Johnson said.
Recruits enter the slalom course at 30 miles per hour. Their hand positioning on the wheel is important.
"It's going to be nine and three positioning. It's going to give us control of the vehicle as the weight transfers laterally from side to side as we slalom through these cones,” Johnson said. “We're not going to break once we enter these cones. We're going to keep a steady speed."
Another drill teaches recruits how to manage curves at high rates of speed.
"[We] try to get as straight a line as possible going into that corner and do not use your brakes," Kastein said.
Parts of the course are set up to be run at slower speeds, challenging recruits to learn where the corners of the vehicles are and how to maneuver through tight spaces.
The recruits seem to have the most difficult time backing through the course because they're taught to not rely on their mirrors.
"The trick to backing up is you need to get up off your seat and look out that back window and don't trust your mirrors," Johnson said.
And, because recruits are learning how different vehicles handle and their limitations, there are a few crashes.
"This is the place for accidents to happen because it is a training scenario,” Johnson said. “We have had people go off the road. We have had people roll a vehicle. We've actually gone under the fence before, but we've had no serious injuries and we're proud of that record."
South Dakota's driver training academy comes highly recommended too.
Johnson and other instructors have also trained members of the National Guard on how to drive when escorting military dignitaries through Afghanistan.
The current class of recruits recently entered its final stage of highway patrol training. They will finish up with several weeks of on-the-job training in the field before graduation.
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