Car safety and survival guide

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It is an unfortunate reality that any one of us can be a victim of assault. That’s why it is critically important for us all to be alert and aware when driving or walking to or from our vehicles. Though there will always be factors that are out of our control, there are some steps everyone can take to make driving and walking alone safer.

Car safety

It’s never pleasant to be stranded on the side of the road due to a mechanical breakdown, flat tire or accident. One of the most important things you can do to minimize the likelihood of finding yourself in such a situation with a breakdown or flat tire is to assure your vehicle is regularly maintained.

Even with proper car maintenance, though, getting stranded can still happen. What to do? First, you may want to call for roadside assistance, which you can typically get as an optional coverage on your car insurance. Next, you might want to call a trusted friend or family member to let them know where you are — and perhaps even ask them to come and wait with you if possible. Before you even get in the car, though, you may want to put together a kit with some vital tools to help keep you safe.

Car emergency kit

Preparing ahead of time is essential. Carefully preparing an emergency kit to keep in your car can pay off if you are stuck alone on the road and facing an emergency. A typical kit should include:

  1. Roadside assistance number: Roadside assistance may be tied to your insurance coverage, or you could purchase a separate plan from organizations like AAA or AARP.
  2. Manufacturer built-in road assistance: Most major car manufacturers include technology that will enable you to call for help, such as General Motors’ Onstar or Chrysler’s UConnect, as standard in many makes and models. Even if you don’t purchase the premium subscription to these services, most cars today will give you the hardwired option to call emergency services.
  3. A fully-charged cell phone and charging cord: If you have a battery-powered charger, you may want to bring that as well in case your car’s electrical system fails.
  4. Blankets or other warm clothing: If you live in a particularly harsh climate, you may even need snowshoes or adequate rain or storm gear.
  5. Food and water: It’s a good idea to keep a few bottles of water and some energy bars in your car in case you are stranded for a long time.
  6. Jumper cables: Be sure to invest in a quality set of cables and keep them in your car at all times.
  7. Tire-changing equipment: You should always carry a fully-inflated spare tire, along with a car jack and all necessary tools to change your tire. Some modern vehicles do not include a spare tire anymore, so you’ll want to make sure to purchase one if your car does not include it.
  8. Seat belt cutter: While seat belts are perhaps the most critical safety feature on your vehicle, there are rare situations where a seat belt can get jammed and not release. In these cases, a driver or passenger can be stuck in a dangerous situation and the seat belt cutter is a wise investment. Be sure to keep it in a place where it can be easily reached if you are alone.
  9. Window breaker: There may be occasions when it is necessary to break a car window from the inside in order to get out, such as if your vehicle lands in a lake or other body of water, for example. Again, you’ll want to keep this in easy reach of the driver’s seat.
  10. Flashlights: Keep a couple of high-powered flashlights available in your car and make sure the batteries are new.
  11. Flares: Keeping a few roadside flares in your car could come in handy and keep you visible to other drivers if you are stranded at night on a busy roadway.

Personal safety

Although the dangers of assault are very real, it is important to remember that these events are still relatively rare.

No matter how hard you try, you may not be able to avoid all risky situations, like walking to and from your car alone at night. But being prepared for these situations is the best way to minimize the chances of being a victim of violent crime. Awareness and paying attention to your surroundings is key, and there are a number of self-defense devices available to help keep you safe.

Self-defense kit

With rapid advancements in technology today, new self-defense devices are available all the time. While the sheer number of choices can be overwhelming, there are some devices, both the tried and true and those new to the scene, which everyone should consider. Anyone who feels they might be vulnerable should consider putting together a self-defense kit, which could include:

  1. Personal alarms: Alarms come in all sizes and shapes and can often be attached to a keychain. The functions of all alarms are the same: to create a sufficiently loud noise to both deter an aggressor and attract the attention of others who might be able to help.
  2. Stun gun: Tasers and stun guns have been employed by law enforcement for some time and have increasingly been legalized for personal use in much of the country. Check your state’s laws to see if you are allowed to carry one.
  3. Self-defense ring or keychain: These rings or keychains look harmless, but are actually designed to serve as weapons if you are attacked. Again, you should check your state’s laws to see what it is legal for you to carry in your area.
  4. Pepper spray: Pepper spray temporarily hurts and blinds an attacker, buying the victim precious time to escape and seek help. Again, some states have limited the use of pepper spray or banned it altogether.
  5. Emergency flashlight: Not only does this come in handy in your car kit, but some flashlights are designed to temporarily blind an attacker and can give you time to escape.
  6. Smart jewelry: Disguised for fashion, these devices are capable of sending out a very loud panic sound or immediately alerting specified contacts and/or emergency services.
  7. Tactical pen: These actual working pens are designed to serve as weapons in an emergency situation using things like titanium construction and pressurized cartridges.
  8. Ripple 24/7 personal safety monitor: The Ripple safety device is another wearable protection which can be programmed to contact friends or family or a monitoring service, telling them where you are and that you need help.
  9. SLFORCE alarm: The SLFORCE device sends out a 130 db siren sound, disorienting an attacker and alerting others that you are in danger. The alarms also have built-in LED flashlights.

Be observant

Often the most effective way to protect yourself is to simply utilize your senses. Taking care to watch and listen carefully to your surroundings may be the most effective way to avoid dangerous situations when you are traveling solo. Simple precautions such as these can make a big difference:

  1. Stay aware: Make a conscious decision to always look around and be very aware of your surroundings. If something doesn’t seem right, it typically isn’t. Make eye contact with other people in the area to let them know that you are paying attention.
  2. Avoid distractions: Talking or texting on a cell phone is not a great idea when you are in a potentially dangerous situation. Put your phone away until you are in a safe location.
  3. Know your route ahead of time: When driving or walking, plan your route carefully ahead of time and be sure you will not be entering dangerous areas. Share your planned route with others, too, so people know where you are.
  4. Look for alternatives to placing yourself in danger: If you feel that you are entering a potentially dangerous area, take a step back and reassess your options. Perhaps you could take another route instead or, if walking, wait until there are a couple of different groups of people around rather than walking alone.

Walking to and from your car

Remember, assaults don’t just occur at night; they can happen any time of day, particularly in secluded areas. For example, remote parking lots and parking garages offer opportunities for criminal activity that may go unnoticed. Often, when you are alone in these types of locations, you are truly alone, and others may not be in the vicinity to help if you encounter danger.

Here are some tips and precautions you can take when parking your vehicle or walking to or from your parking space:

  1. Choose a good parking spot. There are several factors to consider, such as good lighting and proximity to exits, elevators or stairs.
  2. Don’t unlock your car doors too early. Unlock your car only when you are ready to enter or exit your vehicle.
  3. Stay alert and keep your head up.
  4. Be prepared with your key alarm or another protective device in hand.
  5. Walk with others when possible. Don’t be reluctant to ask someone to walk you to your car. If no one is available to ask, wait until there are other groups of people nearby.
  6. Trust your intuition. When in doubt about a situation, don’t be afraid to retreat and get help.

Inside your car

Although statistics are not regularly maintained about assaults by someone hiding in your car, it is a risk to take seriously. Additionally, there are specific steps that can be taken once inside your car to protect yourself. Consider these precautions to avoid an attack under these circumstances:

  1. Circle your vehicle before getting in. Walk around your car at a safe distance, check your backseat and look under your vehicle before you get in to assure you are alone. If you spot a threat, leave your car immediately and seek help.
  2. Lock your doors right away after checking the interior. It is best to leave them locked at all times when you are inside and driving. You can be vulnerable when you stop at intersections, for example.
  3. Check all of your mirrors. Make sure they are properly aligned and maximize your range of sight.
  4. Keep valuables out of sight at all times, whether parked or driving.
  5. Make sure you have a full tank of gas. If you have to stop, look for a brightly lit station with lots of people around.
  6. Always be aware and attentive. Predators look for people who appear distracted or unaware. Make eye contact with people when you see them.
  7. If you do experience car trouble, keep your doors locked and your windows closed. If someone stops and offers help, stay in your car and ask them to call the police or other roadside assistance.

Rideshare safety

Uber, Lyft, and other rideshare services have added a level of convenience to our travel that was unheard of ten years ago. With these services, a traveler can avoid the frustrations of city traffic, the challenges of finding a parking space and other issues.

While the rideshare companies have taken some steps to better protect passengers in light of recent incidents, here are some steps you can take to protect yourself when you use a rideshare service:

  1. Check the license plate: Make sure it matches with the plate provided when you reserved the car.
  2. Ask your driver’s name: Again, make sure this is the same driver identified in your order. Be sure to ask them their name rather than asking them to confirm their name.
  3. Ask who the ride is for: When you approach the car, ask the driver to tell you who the ride is for. If your name is not provided, don’t get in the vehicle.
  4. Check the child door locks: Make sure that they are not engaged and that you can get out if and when you choose. Open the window before shutting the door to check so you can still get out if they are engaged.
  5. Know your route: Check the app before and during the ride so that you are aware immediately if the driver appears to be driving off course.
  6. Make sure you understand the safety features available in each rideshare company’s app before taking a ride: Uber and Lyft have added features that allow you to call for help if you feel unsafe.
  7. Use apps designed for rideshare safety: Some examples include Circle of 6 and Noonlight.

Prepare for the worst

You can never be too careful to take steps to protect yourself and prepare a strategy to prevent an assault or other attack. The general rule should simply be to prepare for the worst. In doing so, you can instill more confidence in your travel plans and your ability to protect yourself without fear.

If the worst were to happen, would you know what to do? Here are some resources to help you learn about steps you can take if and when you are a victim of an attack or kidnapping:

  1. Activate SOS on your phone or smartwatch. This enables you to call the emergency number even when your phone is off.
  2. Learn how to escape from the trunk of your specific vehicle if you are locked in.
  3. Learn how to escape from zip ties: Escaping from zip ties is not easy, but it can be done if you remain calm and follow these steps. Twisting and yanking the ties will typically not help and only serve to cut your wrists.
  4. Learn how to escape from duct tape: Similarly, there are specific techniques for escaping from duct tape restraints that are not intuitive.
  5. Consider taking a self-defense course: If you find yourself without any of the devices we mentioned in this article, knowing how to use your body to protect yourself could be crucial.

It takes some work to learn these techniques, but it is worth it, and they may save your life.

Resources

Self-defense classes

The following online self-defense classes and courses are specifically designed for women:

Self-defense tools

Here are some sites that highlight a host of self-defense products and tools for women:

Rideshare apps for women

These apps have been designed specifically to help women stay safe using rideshare:

Safety apps

These apps are designed to help everyone stay safer:

  • Zich is a personal safety app that combines several safety options, including sending an alert with voice commands and pre-programming pretend incoming phone calls to confuse and disrupt dangerous situations.
  • Kitestring also provides an interesting way of coupling your whereabouts with the technology of your family and friends. The app sends automatic texts to you frequently, and if you don’t respond, your group is notified.
  • bSafe sends voice-activated SOS alerts to people you have pre-programmed into your app and permits them to hear all that transpires in any encounter with a potentially dangerous person or situation.
Written by
Rick Hoel
Insurance Contributor
Rick Hoel is an international business attorney and legal and insurance writer for Bankrate.com, Reviews.com and Accessibility.com. Over the last several years, he has covered topics dealing with personal and commercial insurance and technology and the law. Rick is General Counsel and Director of Risk Management and sits on the Board of Power Stow Americas Inc., a subsidiary of Power Stow A/S in Denmark, the world leader in the supply of tracked conveyor systems to the airline industry.
Edited by
Insurance Editor