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Road Warriors: Keeping Your and Yours Safe on the Road

Everything about modern vehicle design is intended to make us feel safe and isolated from the outside world. And if we look back at history, we quickly realize it’s more than just a feeling — it’s backed by mountains of data.

There’s been a 95-percent improvement regarding fatalities in the last hundred years because of new and better safety systems combined with significant advancements in medical technology; the vast majority of automobile accidents are now survivable.

Yet, per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of fatal accidents increased by 28-percent nationwide over the last several years. While percentages of survivability are useful when crafting public policy, they’re cold comfort for someone bleeding out on a boulevard — and anyone who has been driving for more than five years has noticed the recent increase in driver aggression.

One might be tempted to blame these deaths on a post-pandemic mindset, but these numbers were increasing before anyone had ever even heard of COVID-19. The number of registered vehicles on U.S. roadways continues to climb, increasing roughly 4 percent from 2017 to 2021, while road infrastructure in many parts of the country has stagnated.

Despite what talking heads vomit from their mouths, the general spike in violence lessened to pre-lockdown levels in 2022, but vehicular shootings have continued their upward progression. No, we’re not talking about gang-related drive-by shootings, but rather ordinary motorists road raging and pulling pistols out in the process.

These incidents not only include times when drivers pull over and confront one another, but alarmingly, while both vehicles are in motion riding down the road.

We’ve seen examples of aggressors shooting across four busy lanes of traffic, like a sh*tty reenactment of Sicario, most notably as one of the vehicles exits the highway so the shooter increases the odds of a clean getaway. It doesn’t take much to set off a road-raging maniac, and despite our vehicles’ myriad safety features meant to protect us from collisions, they offer little to no protection from incoming rounds.

This article is all about survival, and many of the same tactics and techniques that apply to concealed carry also have great overlap in other areas.

DEFENSIVE DRIVING

“Defense” is too typically thought of as a word meaning to be reactive rather than proactive, but that isn’t the case. It really means that you aren’t the aggressor of the situation. Defensive driving is an oft-used but rarely defined term. While part of it is not driving too fast, keeping your hands at 10 and 2, and following the rules of the road, those are only a small part of a larger whole.

Defensive driving has a lot more to do with carrying a defensive pistol than the mere name. In both situations you’re actively assessing potential threats and acting accordingly to keep your life and limb. But when you’re driving versus walking the street, the envelope of possible hazards increases tremendously; a driver merging into you at high speed isn’t typically searching for a victim to exploit.

But all the same, both can prematurely end your life. Ultimately, you want to better protect yourself from unexpected weather conditions, tire failure, sun glare, distracted drivers, aggressive drivers, falling objects, and animals.

It means looking ahead on the road, not only in the immediate vicinity but also further out; it’s just like being aware of potential threats while walking the street with a CCW, except that everyone behind the wheel is a potential aggressor. No road obstruction or slowed traffic will “come up too fast” if you’re driving appropriately for the weather conditions, looking ahead, and prepared to brake quickly.

Ever zone out on a long drive and suddenly find yourself forgetting the miles taken? That’s the opposite of defensive driving.

Your mirrors and eyes should be used enough that at any given moment you know where you can move your vehicle to avoid an impact. If a heavy toolbox falls out of the truck you’re following, you may not have time to check all your mirrors — you’ll need a pre-planned escape route.

This is no different from sitting down in a restaurant or movie theater and taking note of the nearest emergency exits. Ideally, your mirrors are adjusted to cover the most amount of space around your vehicle, with minimal overlap of coverage to reduce blind spots.

While secondary blind spot mirrors are commonplace on larger vehicles, even smaller cars can find benefit from their use. They’re inexpensive and can be purchased at low cost from any auto parts store. Better yet, don’t rely entirely on mirrors or electronic blind spot sensors — enhance your awareness by turning your head and checking over your shoulders frequently.

If you’re going to best predict the actions of drivers around you, keep close eye on their front wheels; the wheels will show the direction of movement before you see the rest move.

Your speed isn’t dictated by the maximum allowed by law (with most adding 5 to 8 mph) but the conditions present. Conditions are affected by weather, but also by traffic itself. Always keep enough space between the car in front of you so that you’ll be able to brake to a stop if needed.

And when you do stop, leave enough space that you can crank the wheel to full lock and pull out around the car ahead; if you can’t see the bottom of that vehicle’s tires over the edge of your hood, you’re probably too close.

SELF-MANAGED

If someone cuts you off, is speeding, or generally acting the dangerous fool, understand that it’s more about them than about you. Hanlon’s razor is the idea that you shouldn’t attribute malice what could otherwise be explained by stupidity. But the next step is that you shouldn’t attribute stupidity what could otherwise be explained by inattention.

Nobody’s perfect, and sometimes it’s true that we accidentally cut someone off or almost merge into them, especially if we aren’t actively practicing defensive driving.

Getting worked up and reacting isn’t going to make anything better. If an actual jerk is behind the wheel, you’re just playing into the hands of an asshole. Getting into a battle of ego with an idiot is a surefire path to disaster. And if it’s someone who had a moment of inattention, yes, their actions can still kill you. But getting aggravated won’t help the situation either.

DE-ESCALATION

  • Rule 1: Don’t retaliate! (Brake checking, swerving, middle finger, yelling out the window, etc.)
  • Move over, decrease speed. Practice your defensive driving skills.
  • Avoid eye contact. This can be seen as a threat, challenge, or other form of escalation. Not looking isn’t as rude as looking and appearing to challenge.
  • Apologize … even when it’s not your fault. If you do make eye contact, even by accident, look sheepish and shrug with a “my bad” gesture.
  • Temper your own reactions — picture the driver as a real human with real problems — maybe they’re angry because they got disrespected by their boss or cheated on by a spouse, or maybe they’re rushing to a hospital to see their dying child.
  • Seek police, if the need arises.

TROUBLE SIGNS

Studies have shown that the more personalization and adornments a vehicle has, the more aggressive the driver. It doesn’t matter what the flags or bumper stickers say, from “Coexist” to “Kill ’em All,” it’s their mere presence that sends the real signal. Excessive ornamentation and swag is a sign that the driver considers their vehicle as an extension of themselves or their home. And perceived violations, be they real or imaginary, may be taken as an attack against their persons.

Front-end damage isn’t a sure sign of a bad or aggressive driver, because let’s face it: sh*t happens. However, front-end damage also happens to those who tailgate and otherwise were unable to avoid obstacles. If you see an aggressively driven vehicle that looks like it’s being held together with duct tape and baling wire, it’s probably wise to give it a wide berth because that driver may not mind another collision (and may run because they’re uninsured).

DASH CAMS

Dash cams in cars first became popular in nations with high levels of insurance fraud, namely Russia. In subsequent years, they’ve become far more popular in America, with some manufacturers offering them as standard features. Dash cams can be very useful for determining fault in an automotive accident, for identifying vandals and other criminals, and even for documenting interactions with law enforcement if you get pulled over.

There are several models (checkout CONCEALMENT Issue 19 for a buyer’s guide) to choose from with assorted features, but generally you can choose between front, back, and interior recording. We recommend a system that records the view from the front and rear at minimum. A front-only system doesn’t help very much if someone rear-ends you. Some cams can be configured to record after detecting motion or impacts while the vehicle is parked, adding a safeguard against vehicle break-ins and parking lot hit-and-run incidents.

Like the in-car and body-worn cameras used by police, dash cams can also help moderate your own behavior. If you know there’s going to be a record of your actions that might be used as evidence in court, it can make you less likely to lash out in anger, cut people off, and otherwise indulge in road rage.

IF THE WORST HAPPENS

Sometimes you can do everything right, but still end up discovering a new form of evolved asshole. First and foremost, do not escalate. Eat your ego. If someone is following you and acting aggressively, slow and move over the right.

If they do not pass you, don’t pull over and exit the vehicle. While cars make pretty sh*tty shields for most types of bullets (see our piece about vehicle cover and concealment), that glass and metal cage does offer some protection from fists, bats, and sticks.

If they continue to follow, call 911 and start navigating to the nearest police station — not your home or workplace.

If someone displays a gun or shoots into your vehicle as a result of road rage, they’re certainly clearly demonstrating they’re not rational or of sound mind. But even though deadly force is authorized, it’s extremely stupid to fire while you’re traveling down the road. If you thought using a cellphone while you’re driving was distracting, just wait until you try and return fire while going 80 mph.

If there’s one thing learned going through driving classes, it’s that the job of the driver is to drive. It’s impossible to be in control of your vehicle if you try and shoot while traveling at high speed, let alone ensure you have a proper backstop.

But there are times and traffic situations, like jams, collisions, and red lights, where you cannot simply keep going. Once again, stay in the vehicle. Leaving the vehicle or even opening your window may be seen by prosecutors as a sign of mutual aggression.

Call the police, keep your doors locked, and prepare to defend yourself if need be. It’s also here where you should take special note of your surroundings if you must shoot — even if the shooting is justified, roads are packed with innocent bystanders, and people can and have been absolutely prosecuted for a miss that hits a bystander.

The time to practice getting to your gun when you’re behind the wheel is not when the balloon goes up. Take a few minutes to safely practice your draw while inside the vehicle in a controlled environment. This is doubly important because transition zones like parking lots are common locations for criminal ambush.

OTHER TIPS

  • Mirror Adjustment: Adjust your mirrors to maximize coverage with as little overlap as possible.
  • Lights: Bright enough for good visibility and awareness, but aimed properly so they don’t blind oncoming traffic
  • Tires: Don’t cheap out! They’re the single most important safety component of any vehicle, critical for sudden braking and evasive maneuvers. Leaving bald tires on your car is like choosing to wear flip-flops to a gunfight.
  • Car Kits: Ideally you have a couple of kits in the car — medical, because the road is the number-one place you’ll come across traumatic injuries, and Roadside, because stuff happens. You want to have the ability to both change a tire and, if possible, repair-in-place.

LOOSE ROUNDS

We carry concealed handguns to even out the odds during a violent encounter, to give us and ours a better chance of survival. And though most people reading this won’t know someone who has had to use a handgun defensively, virtually all know or are one step away from someone killed or maimed on the road. If you’re going to take the time to protect yourself from the less-likely event of criminal violence, it’s only pragmatic to examine risk reduction and make basic preparations for the road.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: QUICK KITS

It’s always a good idea to have contingency kits inside your car for exigent circumstances. While it’s easy to get bogged down in the details and everyone has different needs, we’ll outline the basics as a starting point. In terms of storage, almost any bag is preferred over letting ever y thing roll around in the back, but VTAC Stackable Storage Cubes from Vertx excel in this category. There are several sizes, and they all nest together nicely.

TOOLS

While new vehicles come equipped with at least a tire iron, jack, and donut, they ’re often low- quality and cumbersome to use. Though you may not have the space or inclination to put a floor jack in your Jetta, even an inexpensive Harbor Freight scissor jack and tire iron will outperform a lot of OEM equipment.

Being on the side of the road is dangerous, so the faster you can get up and go the better. Having the ability to fix a tire in place without swapping can really reduce this time. A tire plug kit combined with an air compressor will take care of flats from tread punctures. A can of Fix-A-Flat can also be used to temporarily repair a slow leak in order to allow you to get to someplace better equipped than the ditch (see OFFGRID Issue 38 for more).

And of course, you can add other items you may need like adjustable wrenches, jumper cables, zip ties, duct tape, and road flares.

MEDICAL

The place you’re most likely to run into severe medical trauma is the road. Though you’re unlikely to want to roll with a full EMT bag, basic items like a tourniquet, shears, gloves, gauze, and compression bandages are worth their weight in gold during an emergency. Check out OFFGRIDweb.com for more comprehensive information on medical kits.

BAILOUT KIT

No, this isn’t a three – day bugout bag but instead a small, secured, well-hidden kit for emergency essentials. Commonly, these will contain medication, keys, defensive items like OC spray and a small pistol (local laws will vary; keep guns locked up), and pocket light, as well as condoms and cash.

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