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With more than 250 million passenger vehicles on the road in the United States alone, the availability and temptation is very high for criminals to target your vehicle, your personal belongings and you! However, just because there is a chance that a thief or an attacker has you in their sights, it doesn’t mean that you have to be an easy mark. With a little bit of training, some good decision making and a focused mind, you should be able to drive away safely and free of fear.

Generally speaking, your car and its contents become a target every time you leave the security of your driveway or garage. That doesn’t mean you have to be paranoid or fearful every time you drive down the street or park your car to run an errand. What you do have to do is minimize the opportunities you give thieves to either steal your vehicle or grab your valuables from inside. The most obvious of preventative measures is, of course, locking your car doors. This simple yet often ignored tip can persuade a thief to move on to an easier target. Thieves want to do the least amount of work possible in the shortest amount of time. The more difficulties you create for them, the less likely you are to become their next victim. With that in mind, keep all valuables out of site when storing them in your car. Lock laptops, cameras, cell phones and other targeted items in your glove compartment or trunk. It takes only a second or two for a thief to shatter your window and grab your car’s contents. They will be gone from the scene before anyone takes notice.

The gas station is a prime location for a variety of car-related crimes. Leaving your car running for only a minute to buy a lottery ticket or a can of soda is like throwing your keys into the waiting hands of a prospective thief and allowing him to take off with your vehicle. Your casual attitude is exactly what thieves rely on to score big. Even when you are pumping gas always lock your doors and roll up all your windows. This may sound extreme, but as you watch the pump, clever thieves are watching you. They will reach into your open window, grab your wallet or other valuables and race from the scene before you even pull your receipt from the pump. Also be aware of strangers coming up to you at the pump asking for directions or spare change. They may be sent to distract you while their partners are quickly grabbing your possessions—or taking off in your car!

Close-Quarters Security

The use of parking lots and garages are a necessity when shopping or attending events at large stadiums or sporting arenas. They are convenient to use, but they are also prime locations for muggings, theft and violent attacks, which could include rape, kidnapping or even murder. Several common-sense principles should be engrained in everyone’s mind when leaving your car at these locations. First and foremost, be aware and alert of your surroundings at all times. It may seem basic, but by following this simple rule you can be scratched of an attacker’s list of intended prey. Walk briskly with your head high, free of distraction (this includes that cellphone glued to your ear) and focus on getting to your car while simultaneously scanning the parking lot for anything out of the ordinary. The attacker’s victims are the weak, the confused and the distracted; not someone that may give them a challenge if confronted. Have your keys ready, enter your car quickly and, once inside, lock the door immediately.

In crowded parking lots, always pay close attention to the vehicles parked next to you when walking to your car to leave. Abductors scan the parking lot for women and girls who are alone, then park next to them, usually waiting in a van or large truck. As a woman opens her car door, the attacker jumps out, grabs the victim and speeds off…all within a matter of seconds. Always park in well-lit areas and try to avoid parking spaces located on the outer fringe of the lot. Attackers focus in this area because it makes their getaway after the crime much easier. Remember, your goal is to make the criminal’s job as difficult as possible for them.

During hectic holiday times, make several trips to your car with your purchases and lock them in the trunk, out of sight from potential thieves. Buy your high-priced items at the end of your shopping day, and carry them on your final trip to your car. If a thief wanted to break into your vehicle while you were shopping, he may end up with only a sweater or socks and not the state-of-the-art laptop or tablet that you just purchased. If at any time you feel uncomfortable walking to your car with all your newly bought goods, ask the mall’s security personnel to escort you. You’re not being paranoid or troublesome. You are being smart, and being smart will keep you alive.

Be extra careful and alert if you have to use the stairs or the elevator in a parking garage. Both are prime locations for an ambush by thieves or abductors. You can be trapped and surrounded on the stairway landings or assaulted between floors in an elevator. Avoid using them alone; squeeze into the elevator with another group of people (safety in numbers!) or follow others that are also using the stairways. If you have no other choice but to travel alone, be alert of suspicious sounds and make note of possible exits and escape routes if you need to flee the scene. It is always a good idea to have a pepper spray canister attached to your key chain or carry a personal high-decibel alarm on you at all times.

Hard Target

Even with all your common-sense thinking and the numerous safety precautions you take with your vehicle, you may still be a target in the eyes of an attacker. If there is either a physical confrontation or an armed assault, you do have some effective self-defense options to protect you and possibly save your life.

Entering Your Vehicle: You are at your most vulnerable once you have unlocked your car door and are about to enter your vehicle. An open door gives an opportunity for a carjacker, rapist or abductor to overpower you and steal your car or forcibly take you away. The number-one rule that must be followed no matter the circumstances is, don’t ever be taken away from the scene. Your chances of surviving the ordeal, statistically speaking, greatly diminish if you are abducted. If grabbed, fight back with all your strength. You would be surprised how much power you can generate when the adrenaline levels in your body surge. Twist and turn to try and knock your assailant off of your body. Use the tight confines of the parking lot to your advantage. Push off other cars for leverage and impact points.

Shout for help with your loudest screams. (It’s recommended that you scream “fire” instead of “help” to attract the most attention!) Kick, scratch, punch, pull hair; do whatever is needed to stop him from forcibly taking you away. If he wraps his hand around your mouth, don’t hesitate to bite down and rip off a chunk of flesh to make him release! If your assailant threatens you at gunpoint to make you get into the car, plead for your life as a distraction and, when possible, push him and the gun aside and run away. Flee in a zigzag pattern to prevent him from locking in a good shot and don’t stop or turn around until you reach help. Most likely he won’t attempt a shot for fear of attracting attention to himself. It is a dangerous maneuver, but as mentioned earlier, your chances for survival are much better than if you are taken away by your attacker.

Defend From Inside: Most people feel secure when they are sitting behind the wheel. However, a rolled down window while waiting at a stop sign or traffic light can be an invitation for trouble. Your purse, your valuable necklace or your tablet resting on the seat can be irresistible targets for thieves. When an attacker reaches into your open window, most people instinctively would try to push their advancing arm back out. This will have little or no success. Instead, do the unexpected and pull his arm in further! The energy he exerts to force his arm into your vehicle will work against him and make it a relatively easy action for you. Then, lock and hyperextend his arm using the steering wheel as a fulcrum.

Vehicle-Based Weapons: There are several weapons that work well to help protect you from auto-related crimes. A firearm is beneficial in life-or-death situations, but it isn’t legal to use against less extreme vehicular crimes. Pepper spray or mace work well when confronted by someone with “road rage” who will not listen to reason no matter how much you try to calm them down. An extending tactical baton or short stick stored within arm’s reach can also keep a large assailant or weapon wielding person at bay.

This article is from the spring 2015 issue of Personal & Home Defense. To read more and subscribe, please visit PersonalDefenseWorld.com.

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