On a road trip, most of us are conscious of staying safe by doing what we can to avoid accidents. While this is crucial, it is also important to be on guard against crime. On the road – and at the stops you make along the way – you are usually not on familiar turf and, in the excitement of a holiday, there is a chance you'll drop your guard. This can leave you at risk of hijacking, assault and robbery. Here's advice for hitting the highway safely.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
• Make sure your car is roadworthy. That way you're less likely to find yourself stranded (and vulnerable) on the side of the road. 'Take a dependable car and have it properly serviced,' says manager of AA Driver Training Dave Johnston.
• Buy a map book and plan your route before you leave, making sure you avoid any areas that are known to be dangerous.
• 'Carry certified copies of your ID and other important documents in your handbag,' says Sanette Smit, COSMO's self-defence expert. 'Leave your originals at home.'
• Take a spare car key with you. Store it in a magnetic case somewhere on the outside of the car, such as behind a bumper or inside a hubcap, says Johnston – useful if you lock your keys in the car or you're mugged and your keys are stolen.
• Find out the police and emergency numbers for the areas you will be visiting and store them in your cellphone.
ON THE ROAD
• Smit suggests you keep the following self-defence items in your handbag: pepper spray, a screwdriver and a pen. 'Naturally you should keep your wits about you,' she says. 'Use your intuition and stay alert.'
• Johnston advises you keep basic tools in the car in case you get a flat tyre. And ensure that you always carry your car manual in the cubbyhole.
• Try to keep to major routes or toll roads, says Johnston. If you find yourself in trouble, it'll be easier for you to tell rescue services where to find you.
• Tell someone back home your route, even if you only give them a vague outline, for example: 'Tomorrow we'll be travelling between Knysna and Plett.'
• As much as road trips are meant to be fun and spontaneous, resist the temptation to stop at a dam and go skinny-dipping. Leaving your car and keys unattended while you're in the water makes you vulnerable.
• 'If you have a breakdown, phone an emergency service. If it's a girls-only road trip, tell them that,' says Smit. 'If people stop to help you, politely tell them that help is on the way. Don't get into a car with strangers.'
• Be suspicious of people appearing to need help on the side of the road. This can be a ruse by hijackers to get you to stop. Instead of risking it, phone an emergency service and say you've seen someone who seems to be stuck.
• When stopping somewhere for the night, it's safer to stay in a chalet than in a tent, says Smit. A tent can easily be ripped open or pushed over but you can lock yourself and your valuables inside a chalet.
• If you plan to stay in a B&B, book your accommodation before you leave. This leaves time to check that it is located in a safe area.
• Try not to look like a tourist – it could mark you as an easy and lucrative target for mugging. Don't carry your camera conspicuously or leave maps lying visible on your car seat.
For information about self-defence, visit www.selfdefence.co.za