Walton “Bo” Ballew Jr., a 78-year-old native of Gholson, Texas, spends his spare time building driving simulators by hand to help police officers avoid life-threatening accidents.
Ballew Jr. has been making the “old school” devices for law enforcement agencies across the country for the past 43 years.
“I feel like I have helped save a few people’s lives in my 43 years 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,” Ballew Jr. told KWTX 10.
Ballew Jr., with neither a college degree nor high school diploma, is the only one who makes the ingenious device, which he calls a “reaction perception simulator.”
He builds each device by hand at his shop in Gholson.
“They’re so simple, educated people can’t figure ‘em out. Eight-inch circles, manual doors … there’s no electronics involved in none of it,” he said.
“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.”
The simple device — three metal screens, one with traffic lights and one with an arrow to simulate a steering wheel — has been effective at reducing motor vehicle accidents, which are a leading cause of line-of-duty deaths.
According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund website, motor vehicle accidents are the second-leading cause of line-of-duty deaths over the past 10 years, with the leading cause being on-the-job illness.
Ballew Jr. sells each three-piece set to the National Academy for Professional Driving for $1,700.
The first piece of the set trains steering reaction time, the second is a control stop device, and the third simulates traffic lights.
“The idea is to get officers to read the road in front of them. It all (the displays) messes with your mind,” Ballew explained.
“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,” Ballew Jr. said.
Ballew Jr. added that his invention is gaining popularity with police departments.
“Louisiana has bought a lot of them, Texas, City of Waco, has even got a set of these!” Ballew Jr. said. “L.A. County bought like 14 sets at one time, they’re all over, even Canada.”
One reason departments choose Ballew Jr.’s simulators is simple: They’re cheap.
Compared to high-tech software, Ballew Jr.’s contraption is much more cost-effective.
Ballew Jr. said he constructed the device from drawings made by his father for a police training program in Arlington.
“In ’76 or ’77, there were 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,” Ballew recalled.
The Texan engineer hopes that his device will continue to save more lives.
“I just hope that more people will do this training program. I hope to make them another few years, and I hope I can save a few more lives down the way,” he added.