Open Road

Driving lessons from the CHP Academy

Open Road

A friend of mine has a simple philosophy about age: as long as you're still nervous around cops, you're still young enough. Once you start thinking you're on the same side - well, it's a short step from there to the grave.

Except I keep meeting cops I like. Take Andrew Steen, chief instructor at the Emergency Vehicle Operation Course at the California Highway Patrol Academy. Here's a guy who loves cars, loves to talk about them, and can drift a police cruiser around the track as well as any hooligan in a slammed 1989 Nissan 240SX no brake lights or front license plate.

I had the chance to be Andrew's passenger/victim on my visit to the CHP Academy, in the video above. And I had several revelations:

1. Most cops love cars; that's one of the reasons they got into a career that involves driving around all the time.

2. Some cops are absolutely outstanding drivers, and all want to be outstanding.

3. I'm not a great passenger.

Andrew not only took me through the training course and showed me the skidpad and road course they use. He also showed me the most common ways that cadets make mistakes. And it's not any normal racetrack - it's set up like a real road. So there are hard guardrails, no sand traps, and no run-outs. Cadets regularly lose control. Andrew showed me how. It was terrifying.

But ultimately, every cadet that graduates into an officer becomes a very good driver indeed. And if they didn't love cars already, the experience of practicing the art of driving and the simple infectious enthusiasm of their instructors makes them into car people.

Which makes me like them. Which doesn't mean I'm getting old. It just means that I like some cops I met, okay?

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