Central Texas man makes police driving simulators by hand

Walton Ballew Jr. has been helping prevent police crashes for more than 40 years
Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 1:46 AM CDT
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GHOLSON, Texas (KWTX) - In a day and age when technology rules everything...sometimes it’s best to stick with the basics.

For more than four decades, Walton “Bo” Ballew Jr., 78, of Gholson, has been helping police officers across the country avoid serious accidents.

“I feel like I have helped save a few people’s lives in my 43 year of doing this, unknown to me, I’ll never know anything about it, but if I helped prevent a major collision with a police car that had a fatality and may have kept it from happening by having this training program, then it’s well worth it,” said Ballew.

Ballew is a self-made man.

He has no college degree and no high school diploma: he uses his hands to make a living.

Part of that living includes making ‘old school’ police driving simulators by hand.

“It’s (the main device) called a reaction perception simulator,” said Ballew. “It’s still going.”

Since 1979, Ballew has been building the metal displays for police departments across the U.S., and he’s the only one who makes them.

“They’re so simple, educated people can’t figure ‘em out,” said Ballew.

Simple, however, they’re very effective at reducing police crashes, he says.

“Usually about 50%, and that’s a pretty good reduction,” said Ballew.

Ballew ships the displays in pieces for agencies to put together.

There’s no apps, no switches, in fact there’s nothing electronic whatsoever.

“Eight inch circles, manual doors...there’s no electronics involved in none of it,” said Ballew.

Ballew builds the devices at his shop in Gholson.

“There’s no patent, there’s no registered trademark or nothing, it’s just a small, handmade deal that I do, and that’s it,” said Ballew.

He sells the three-piece set for around $1,700 to a company called National Academy For Professional Driving.

According to the company’s website, the “manually operated directional devices” are constructed with “aircraft quality aluminum” and other “high quality hardware” which is built to last a long time.

“They usually do a three-day course, they go into a lot of detail, the physics, geometry of the vehicle, all kinds of stuff,” said Ballew. “There’s the classroom portion, then the simulation is done in large parking lots and airport runways.”

Ballew says nobody’s kept records, but estimates over the years he’s made more than 300 sets to be used in police driving schools.

“The idea is to get officers to read the road in front of them,” said Ballew. “It all (the displays) messes with your mind.”

The first piece can improve an officer’s steering reaction time.

“You’re driving a police car, and if you don’t make a steering correction at the time that arrow flips right or left, you’re going to end up running over the guy behind it,” said Ballew.

The second is a control stop device, and the third simulates a red light.

Ballew just finished a set to send to a police department in Virginia.

“Louisiana has bought a lot of them, Texas, City of Waco has even got a set of these!” said Ballew. “LA County bought like 14 sets at one time, they’re all over, even Canada.”

Part of the appeal for law enforcement agencies: saving money.

“Louisiana has gotten real active in the program, mainly because they get a discount from insurance companies by doing this training program, they have a reduction in police car accidents,” said Ballew.

Ballew started building the displays because his father was one of original investors in the training program for police.

“He came home one day and asked me if I could make this device from some pencil drawings,” said Ballew.

A version of the device had been used in a pilot program for the Arlington Police Dept. in the late 1970s.

“In ‘76 or ‘77, there was like 31 accidents with patrol cars in the City of Arlington, most of them were minor...they did a pilot program with some handmade, wood devices sitting on top of a 55-gallon barrel that still had this concept behind it: they cut the accidents to three, and two of them were minor,” said Ballew. “The third was a child with a basketball coming into the street, an oncoming car was a city patrolman, and the driver, after having this training program, made that split-second decision to make a minor steering correction and took out a fire plug, but he walked away from it, and the kid didn’t get hurt.”

It’s unknown how many lives have been saved, but Ballew can attest: sometimes low-tech...has higher results.

“I just hope that more people will do this training program,” said Ballew. “I hope to make them another few years, and I hope I can save a few more lives down the way.”