Most Americans spend a good part of their week in a car, either as the driver or the passenger. Since the rise of the suburbs in the 1950s, the daily commute has become part of our collective national life. While cars represent the American ideals of freedom, mobility, and individualism, they also require us to think about some additional questions of safety and self-defense.
The good news is that most of the skills we’ll be talking about require less hand-to-hand combat or weapons training and more common sense. As an old Army sergeant I worked with once said:
“The three most important things you can do are pay attention, pay attention, and pay attention.”
So let’s talk about defensive strategies while driving, the potential hazards of parking lots, and why cell phones and remotely activated cars are your friends.
As defined by our heroes at the United States Coast Guard, situational awareness is:
“The ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening to the team with regards to the mission. More simply, it’s knowing what is going on around you.”
It’s a good working definition, but we need to redefine some terms: your team is your family and friends, and your mission is your safety. Toward that end, let’s look at some critical components of situational awareness as it applies to driving.
We all (hopefully) pay attention while on the road. Anyone who’s driven in traffic knows that you have to keep your head on a swivel and be aware of what other drivers are doing at all times. This, my friends, is situational awareness—now we just need to expand it. The biggest issues I see center on people becoming absorbed in traffic and forgetting to consider their destination. While approaching a building or parking lot, are you focused on finding the Holy Grail of American driving—The Closest Possible Parking Space—or are you paying attention to the lot itself. Consider how to get in and out in a hurry, and park accordingly. Be aware of dimly lit spaces or blind corners—these are where potential threats hide. Position your vehicle with one eye toward a speedy exit and stay away from the danger zones.
Now, consider the parking lot or parking deck itself. Is it crowded with cars? Where are the people? Are they behaving normally—moving to and from their vehicles? Is anyone standing around or focused a little too intently on other people or cars? Parking lots are places of transition—anyone idling or just looking around may have something nefarious in mind. Obviously, use your judgment: a parking lot containing a bus stop might have a few people doing just that, and they are probably not a threat.
When moving to or from your ride, pick a route that is well lit, visible to other people, and takes you past as few blind spots as possible. It’s a twisted game of hide and seek: muggers and assailants need to be able to see you and get close without being seen themselves. Plan accordingly.
If you have a car that allows you to start it remotely, I encourage you to do so. It’s a time saver and will help you make a quick exit as needed. Don’t let your situational awareness drop while loading groceries or children into the vehicle—this is when you’re likely to have to deal with an assailant.
There’s much more to say on the subject, and we’ll address that in future articles. The points we’ve talked about here should get you started, so put them into practice today.