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How to Stay Safe on the Road

Vehicle Safety Tips for Women
on How to Avoid Danger on the Road


by Cheryl Jensen

For many women, driving alone can be a fearful experience. If the car breaks down, women are vulnerable.

"Instead of feeling helpless, women can take steps to reduce the chances they will be victims," said Sergeant Pam Marshack, a specialist in women's safety with the Delaware State Police.

Instincts and Escape

Always lock the doors and keep the windows up. "Then one of the most important things...is to be alert," Marschack said. "That means you pay attention, you're looking and listening around you.. You don't just take a quick scan and forget about it."

For example, when coming to a stoplight, look around to see if anyone is nearby, she said. If someone appears threatening or approaches the car, drive away, even if it means going through the light — assuming you can do that without risking a collision.

When stopping, make sure you have what Marshack calls a "grace space." By that she means enough room between your vehicle and the next so you could pull out. "If you're pinned in [traffic], blare the horn, getting the attention of good people," she said. Don't wait for something bad to happen. Take action to avoid a problem.

"People need to learn to trust their instincts," she noted. "Time and again, crime victims tell police they sensed danger but ignored the feeling. Don't try to second-guess the intuitive feelings." Also, pay attention to your location so you can, if necessary, tell police.

Phony Fender Benders

A favorite trick is rear-ending other vehicles to get them to stop to allow a robbery, assault or carjacking. "A person's first instinct is to jump out of the car and look at the damage, " Marshack informed us. "My suggestion is you don't do that."

Instead, she said, turn on the emergency blinkers so the person knows you're aware of being struck. If it is night, turn on your dome light so they can see you and motion for the other car to follow. Don't worry about leaving the scene of an accident. "Your safety is paramount," Marshack added. "You're still going to call the police, but you're putting yourself in a safer environment." 

Proceed to a public place with lots of people and lights. "Don't go home, even if it's around the corner. If it is a bad guy, you don't want him to know where you live," she said.

If the car is so badly damaged that you can't drive away, then it's unlikely the other driver is anything but a poor driver. Carjackers don't want to damage the vehicle, said Marschack.

If the roads are slippery and it seems obvious the accident wasn't manufactured, it may be safe to stay. But if anything seems out of the ordinary, trust your instincts and leave.

Police Imposters

"They're not a big problem, but there have been incidents of people in similar cars to an unmarked police car," Marshack informed us. She suggests that if the car doesn't have clear markings and lights on top, put on the emergency flashers, motion to the "officer" to follow, and then drive at the speed limit to a safe place.

"Any police officer should realize what you're doing," she said.

When you get to that location, if you're still concerned, get out and go into the safe location. A legitimate police officer will follow.

If there's not enough time to get inside the store or gas station, keep the doors locked and open the window enough to communicate, but not enough so they can reach inside. Request the officer's photo identification and examine it carefully.

Mechanical Mishaps

Properly maintaining your vehicle and keeping the gas tank at least half full is an important part of being safe. "Once a car breaks down, you are really vulnerable," Marshack said. "If it's at night and on isolate roadway, you're in a potentially dangerous situation."

An excellent way to handle such driving emergencies is a cell phone, but if you don't have one and it's not possible to walk someplace easily, stay in the car, make a "Call Police" sign and put it up in the back window. "This generally decreases the chance that someone will bother you. To do so would be risky. They're going to have to assume people have seen this, people have called and, for all they know, 10 cops are on the way."

If someone does stop, don't assume they are a good Samaritan, she said. "No matter how nice the person looks; no matter what a nice car they have. [Serial killer] Ted Bundy...was a charismatic man, but look what he did," she reminded us.

Do not leave the car or unlock the doors. Roll the window down no more than an inch and ask the person to call the police.

Motorists who see people broken down or with a "call police" sign should not stop, but should find a phone and call for help.

"There have been cases where a true good Samaritan stops and people jump out of the bushes...and it's a set-up," she warned.

Self-Defense

"I never recommend anyone having a lethal weapon. The element of surprise is most likely to be there [in an attack], and unless you drive down the street with a gun on the steering wheel, it's not going to do you any good," Marshack said. Plus, carrying a weapon in a glove box or under a seat is illegal in some states.

"With mace and pepper spray, there are too many variables that can go wrong," she said. "One of the biggest [problems] is that people buy it and it stays buried in their purse. If you decide to do pepper or mace, have it out of your purse."

The canisters must be unlocked to fire. "You need to get the first shot off, and I recommend people practicing what you would do. Not squirt people, but know what you would do."

If you're being attacked and decide to resist, a metal flashlight could come in handy. "If you're so inclined [to resist], go for the vulnerable places. The upper lip, the nose, the eyes, knees, groin and feet. We have many bones in our feet, and it only takes 14 pounds of pressure to break these bones," she said.

If you're going to physically resist, "Make it count. Nothing wimpy. Whether you're going to punch, grab, twist, or whatever, it's going to make the person angry. You're probably not going to get another chance, and after you do it, run like hell the other way."

Parking Lots

It's easy to hide between cars, so Marshack recommends avoiding parked vehicles when possible. He suggests walking in the driving aisles, provided cars aren't using them. 

When leaving the car, tilt the passenger seat forward, which would make it hard for someone to hide in the back seat. If the seat has been pulled back when you return to the car, call the police.

Before getting in the car, walk around it quickly and look for flat tires or anything that might leave you stranded on the highway. In secluded area, such as an underground parking lot, "time is of the essence," so just get in and go.

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