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Special Report: Intense Driving Techniques

CBS47's Diane Tuazon visited the police training facility, to get some tips that can make you a great defensive driver too.
We've all seen and heard the lights and sirens on emergency vehicles. These emergency responders spend a great deal of time on the road, so it stands to reason we can all learn some driving tips from them.

Fresno police train to drive through dangerous conditions at the Fresno Police Department's Regional Training Center. 

CBS47's Diane Tuazon visited the training facility, to get some tips that can help make you a defensive driver too. 

In the training course, they have what's called a "skid pan" which gives drivers an idea of what it's like to drive through icy or slippery conditions, creating a hydroplane effect. The challenge is trying to maneuver the car in a safe manner. "Get the vehicle where you want it to be and not where it's going," said Sgt. Sean Biggs with the Fresno Police Department.

That seems a lot easier said than done, so Diane was given the opportunity to try it. "If the car's going a certain direction, the natural thing to do is break," said Sgt. Biggs. And that's exactly what Diane did the first go around, spinning out of control before breaking out of fear. Slamming on the breaks in slippery conditions causes your vehicle to hydroplane, making your tires lose contact with the road. "Get off the gas and correct the vehicle and then come to a complete stop," said Sgt. Biggs. With all the adrenaline rushing, Diane gave it another try, with much more success.

On to the next course, a test of quick decision making behind the wheel, where the driver is forced to choose a lane based on where the green light appears. The tricky part is you have to maintain a certain speed. "Show them how to control the car at various speeds and what speed does to the performance of the vehicle," said Sgt. Biggs.

That same idea goes for fire trucks too. Each one weighs about 60,000 pounds. They also have at least 750 pounds of water on board, not to mention all the tools they carry. It's like a heavy tool box on wheels. Which means once they're out on the road, stopping on a dime is nearly impossible. "If it doesn't stop when we want it to stop, we're all going to have problems," said Fresno Fire Captain Brian Price.

So how do firefighters train to maneuver those heavy trucks? For them, preparation starts by making sure all the bells and whistles are working properly... especially the breaks. Communicating with every person in the vehicle is crucial when rushing through town in a large truck, where blind spots can pose dangerous situations. That skill is something all drivers should practice.

Then there are the lights and sirens, meant to communicate an important message loud and clear to all the drivers on the road... "This is where I'm at. This is where I'm going," said Captain Price.

But do drivers always know what to do when they see and hear an emergency vehicle approaching? The correct action is to merge to the right and wait for the emergency vehicle to pass. But not every driver abides by that rule, making for dangerous conditions.

Surface streets are not the only challenges for first responders. Many emergency calls take them onto our freeways, where traffic is flowing faster than these large rigs can go. That's where drivers need to follow the "Move Over" law. The Move Over law requires drivers to change lanes, if there is an open lane, before passing an emergency vehicle stopped on the side of the road. If there is no open lane, drivers must slow down to at least 20 miles per hour below the posted speed limit. The law is intended to protect emergency workers and personnel at the scene of an emergency or traffic situation. "Change lanes and give us at least one lane of working space," said paramedic Jill Karacozoff.

Being prepared for the unknown is what ambulance drivers have to face when responding to an emergency call. But it's not just about alerting other drivers and pedestrians on the road, but also communicating with paramedics in the back, tending to patients on the way to the hospital. "The paramedic won't be able to get any therapy done if the drive isn't smooth or slower on the way in," said Karacozoff.

Aside from moving over to the right lane, emergency responders say it's the basic driving rules that go a long way. "Put down the cell phone, don't text and drive, and turn down the radio a bit. Just watch the road," said Sgt. Biggs.

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Fresno, CA

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