Safety Issues: Cars

Those of us who are older probably feel inviolable in our cars. They are like little portable fortresses surrounding us with thousands of pounds of steel. We can curse or sing off-key and nobody will hear us. Sometimes we almost feel invisible. They are like a second home or a second skin.

Younger survivors are usually more aware of the car’s vulnerability. They probably know how easy it is to put a GPS tracker on their car, and if they have a new car, are aware that GPS in a built-in component of the car’s computer.

If another car starts messing with us, the illusion of invulnerability, if it was there to start with, goes out the window. Being followed, being cut off, or being tailgated is a frightening experience for anybody. But for ritual abuse survivors, especially those who have escaped recently, such incidents make us assume immediately that we are being harassed by the cult. We go into high alert, with adrenaline surging through our bodies.

Now, we can’t make ourselves and our cars 100% safe, but we can make it a little harder for the bad guys to get to us.

Here are some safety suggestions. Some are simple and can be put into place immediately; others are a little harder to implement. Choose what works for you.

Ask the Department of Motor Vehicles not to give out your name and address. Remove your name or identification from reserved parking spaces at work. Remove bumper stickers and easily remembered items like magenta fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror: they make your car easy to spot.

If at all possible, keep your car in an alarmed garage. Don’t let another person borrow your car keys, and if you think there is a possibility your key has been stolen or duplicated, get the locks changed.

Whenever practical, park in high traffic areas. Know where the highly populated areas are in your town, for you are less likely to be attacked or your car broken into where there are plenty of witnesses. If you have one of those invaluable nosy neighbors and you park on the street, ask them to keep an eye on your car when they can and call you if somebody suspicious is hanging out around it.

Lock the car doors when you park and whenever you are in the car. Keep the windows closed and use the fan for ventilation. Before unlocking and entering the car, check the back seat to make sure nobody is hiding on the floor.

If you have a cell phone, take it with you whenever you use your car. Keep pencil and paper handy to record incidents, including time, place, description of the car and driver, and license plate, if at all possible. If you can use our phone to take a photo of the offending car, all the better.

Minimize the amount of time you are near the car or in the car but not moving. Get the parking meter change  ready before you get out, get your keys out before you reach the car, don’t wait in the car for a friend (circle instead) or take time to check your make-up.

It’s a good idea to vary the time of day that you use the car, as well as the routes that you take to work, friends’ houses, or stores. Being unpredictable makes it a little harder to follow you.

If you think you are being followed, make four right turns and see if the suspicious car does too. If you are being followed, never go home or to work or a friend’s house; instead, drive to a police station. Park illegally and stay in your car until an officer arrives rather than going into the station. Make a report of the incident, giving as many facts as possible.

If you are blocked so that you can’t get out of a parking spot to driveway or one-way street, lean on the horn to attract attention and draw witnesses to you. You are much safer with people around than if you were alone.

If you are worried about tampering, check the tires and lug nuts to make sure they are tight before starting out. You can protect your gas tank by buying a locking gas cap that can only be opened from inside the car.

Some people feel safer with a permit to hold concealed weapons and keeping a gun in the car. But you have no assurance that the person harassing you is unarmed or that they aren’t much better and quicker than you are. If you do choose to have a gun, make sure you practice enough so that you are an ace. Same goes for stun guns and tasers.

Instead, you could carry a pepper or mace spray and one of those piercing whistles that can be heard a great distance away. Both are low-cost and small enough to be carried on your key chain. Actually, in a pinch, the keys on your key chain make pretty good brass knuckles.

I haven’t talked about GPS systems because I don’t know that much about them. I do know that newer model cars have a GPS incorporated into the software that controls may of the features on the car and that data is collected by the manufacturers. I also know that cars can be hacked and the signal diverted, but I have no idea how to protect this from happening. I don’t know if somebody can eavesdrop on a manual or cell phone GPS. It is easy enough to turn your cell phone completely off. Perhaps you could live without your manual GPS or unplug it when you don’t need it.

I also don’t know much about safety measures if you live in an isolated rural area. I’ve never lived in the country and I can’t imagine how to protect myself from being run off the road, for example.

If any of you have suggestions or comments (especially about the things I am clueless about), please use the comments section!

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