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Training Review: VDI’s Protective / Evasive Driving (PED) Course

Topic: Mobility, Automobile

Instructor/System: VDI is a specialty driving school headquartered in Englishtown, New Jersey, USA, but which also conducts mobile trainings worldwide and has some number of global affiliates teaching their methods. VDI was founded by Tony Scotti and is now run by Joe Autera — two recognizable names in the security / executive protection field. Per VDI, Scotti developed the VDI methodologies in the 70s in Bogota, Colombia, at the time a hot spot of kidnappings occurring in and around cars as people traveled from home to work and back. Their course offerings include protective/evasive driving, SUV and armored SUV modules, surveillance detection, and a five-day-long “Best Practices for the Solo Practitioner” course.

Content: VDI’s Protective/Evasive Driving (PED) program is a three day long course designed for “professional security drivers, executive chauffeurs, and protection specialists.” VDI goes on to claim that the PED class is a “must have” for executive protection and security folks, and this seems to be true: our class was almost entirely people currently working in exactly these fields. The class is conducted entirely in old Ford Crown Victorias, but has an optional module to allow you to do most of the same drills in an SUV or even an armored SUV. All vehicles have automatic transmissions. Two students to a car, usually, in radio contact with instructors who’re outside the vehicles observing the drill. Lunch each day is done as a group and, if you’re a full size adult, you’ll want to bring additional food every day as lunch is very light.

The class has minimal classroom components interspersed amongst a lot of seat time doing evasive driving drills. Ballparking, it’s probably a 10/90 split, favoring seat time. None of the classroom components are more than an hour long and many are shorter. Classroom topics include safety, time/distance, the mathematics of cornering, and tires. The tire lecture includes some decent meat about understanding tire pressures, how this affects cornering, understanding manufacture dates, etc. Most of the other lecture components are forgettable, though we’ll talk more about math, below. All three days of our course, conducted at VDI’s headquarters in Englishtown, were conducted with cone courses in parking lots, not dissimilar to an autocross course.

VDI makes a big deal out of two things: math and standards. They like to tout that their program is “math based,” saying that they use the same formulas as those used in accident reconstruction, but applied to determine the maximum possible speed which which a given vehicle can traverse a given course. The math here is essentially a car’s given skidpad lateral G’s applied to the smallest radius its being asked to traverse. This math is used to figure out claims like, “For X corner or drill, driving it at 28 miles per hour is 80% of the car’s capacity, 30 miles per hour is 86%,” etc. For VDI, this then drives the progression, where you do each drill at slightly faster speeds until you achieve proficiency at 80% of the car’s capacity — VDI’s standard for driving. To quote Tony Scotti, “You wouldn’t allow the security professional to carry a gun without first measuring their ability to use it, so why would you let that same person drive if you hadn’t measured their ability to do so?”

There’s not much obvious consideration given to whether the lateral G’s of the car were accurately recorded, back when some auto magazine tested it a decade back, nor for things like suspension wear on a 130,000 mile Crown Vic, tire wear, surface, ambient temperature, tires being warmed up or not, etc. Regardless of how accurate this all is, however, there is the 80% standard — so many miles per hour through drill X — and students are held to that, repeating the drill until they attain this proficiency standard. Much ado is made of VDIs adherence to this math and the 80% standard, in contrast to other driving schools who get some shade for failing to do the same.

For the training itself, the drills are few and the reps are many. The first day, for example, included a slalom (60′ cone spacing) and braking in turns in response to a track light coming on. That’s it. No other drills. Minimal classroom time in the morning, then a lot of time spent in the drills at very precise speeds, slowly creeping up until you meet that elusive 80% mark. This was typical: two or three drills a day, maybe, with lots of reps on each. Students were occasionally pulled away from drills — while their co-driver was driving, of course — to do reaction time drills. These drills are conducted out of the car with the student sitting in front of a board and reacting by touching buttons as they light up — think Whack-a-Mole but with a $20,000 light array and some neuroscience research cred behind it.

In between driving drills, very short, superficial case studies of people being kidnapped — or nearly so — in and near their cars are presented to the entire group. Note that these case studies are essentially the only “protective” element outside of the driving itself. That is, there’s no other discussion of surveillance, route planning, pre-attack indicators, bottlenecks, etc. The class notebook does have more verbose versions of these same case studies, which are halfway decent. (And VDI does, it should be noted, have a separate three-day surveillance class available.)

After two and a half days of working through drills, the final exercise is what VDI calls “Karjackistan.” It’s still a cone course, but now putting all previous drills together in sequence with some filler mixed in, giving a course that provides a bit over a minute of seat-time to whip through it in a Crown Vic. This is done with paintball attackers shooting the car, etc, to add some stress elements. It’s a nice capstone to the course. Afterward, performance on the final are read out to the entire class, albeit in what’s ostensibly a percentage of the car’s total capability through the course (!) rather than a time.

Comparison to BSR’s EDC: Since we’ve been through another very similar course in BSR’s Evasive Driving Course, it’s worth a bit of direct comparison here. Of the two, the VDI course feels decidedly more methodical and slower paced. It’s not as sexy or as varied. The BSR course has a skidpad, off-road recovery, driver-down drills, the PIT maneuver, ramming barricades, and an exceptionally educational car-shoot demonstration. VDI has none of those things. The BSR final and VDI final are very similar, but the former is on a race track and the latter around cones in a parking lot. In its favor, VDI has more reps of the individual drills. VDI has SUVs and — even more interesting — armored SUVs. Armored SUVs are a special treat if you’re curious or a requirement if that’s what you actually drive day-to-day for your job. And this is n=1, with each, but VDI is also a much better place to network for the EP world. (Our BSR class was mostly civilians and DOD-affiliated folks, not EP folks.) While they’re both good, VDI’s PED feels much less repeatable than BSR’s EDC, mostly due to that “sexy” factor and the lack of variety.

RMSR Recommended: Yes, but unless you’re an EP professional, and if it’s between this and the BSR course, we’d recommend BSR’s EDC instead.

Pre-requisites: None. All vehicles, including the optional SUVs, have automatic transmissions.

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