Keep Safe In Your Car

When you’re driving, you’re vulnerable to attack. Here are ways to protect yourself.

With your passengers, car radio and (hands-free) cellphone all bidding for your attention, it’s easy to get distracted while driving. But to protect yourself against crime, you have to be on constant guard. Follow our tips for better car safety.

BEFORE YOU START DRIVING

* Plan your route in advance and always keep a road map in your car so you can find your way back to somewhere safe if you get lost.
* ‘In parking garages, check for people standing around aimlessly and be on the alert for any swift movement coming towards you,’ says Sanette Smit, COSMO’s self-defence expert.
* On your way to your car, don’t speak on your cellphone or fiddle in your handbag. If you’re distracted, you’re an easier target for attack.
* Smit says you shouldn’t park in isolated garages or deserted parking lots. Try to park near entrances and security stations.
* When using enclosed parking, keep your parking ticket in your bag and remember to pay when you leave the mall. Make sure you are not being followed as you exit the shopping centre.
* Get into the habit of reversing into parking bays. This makes for a speedier exit and affords better visibility, enabling you to plan your escape more easily if a potential attacker approaches you, says driver-training manager Dave Johnston of the Automobile Association.
* Have your key ready in your hand when approaching your car. ‘This could be used as a weapon if clutched in your fist with the key portion sticking out between your fingers,’ says Johnston.
* ‘Store your handbag in the boot of your car or behind your legs,’ says Smit.
* ‘When you get into your car, check for anyone lying behind the seats,’ says Smit.
* Have your car serviced regularly and make sure you always have enough petrol in your tank. Every three months, check that your spare tyre is properly inflated and roadworthy.

ON THE ROAD

* Fasten your seat belt and lock all your doors. Don’t leave the windows open more than 5cm (about three fingers).
* ‘Be extra vigilant at stop streets,’ says Smit. Slow down early and approach traffic lights with caution. Pace yourself in traffic and try not to come to a complete stop.
* ‘Stop about one car’s length from the vehicle in front of you to give you enough space to manoeuvre out in an emergency,’ advises Nomathemba Mgwebile, spokesperson for the South African Police Service.
* If you are stopped by a traffic officer, ask to see identification, especially if the person is not in uniform.
* Be wary of people loitering at traffic lights, as they can distract you while others execute a hijack. If you are approached, drive away quickly. And pay no attention to people indicating that there is something wrong with your car.
* Go with your gut instinct, says Smit. If you feel you are being followed, drive to the nearest police station.
* If your car breaks down, use your cellphone to call for help and switch your hazard lights on. Don’t accept help from strangers.
* ‘If you are bumped softly from behind by another vehicle and feel uncomfortable with the other driver, don’t stop. Rather head for the nearest police station,’ says Mgwebile.