personal security out on the road - everything you need to know

a few basic precautions can make all the difference to your personal security out on the road, advises jonathan crouch

Particularly in the winter months with their darker mornings and evenings, road users face not only an increased chance of being involved in an accident but also become much more aware of their personal safety.

Although attacks on motorists are rare, it's worth taking a few sensible precautions. Car thieves are, after all, becoming more opportunist and now that security devices are so sophisticated on new cars, some have taken to targeting the car through the driver rather than just valuables.

It is important to make a PLAN:

Plan your personal safety campaign to avoid risky situations.

Look confident - a confident person is less likely to be attacked.

Avoid putting yourself at risk - follow your instincts.

Never assume that it would not happen to you."

Personal safety checklist

People tend to feel safer when driving and harassment or actual attacks are rare. A few sensible precautions will help minimise the risks, and make you feel more confident. Remember also that some drivers may become unnaturally aggressive behind the wheel.

Before you set off:

Make sure your car is regularly serviced, and check tyres, oil, and petrol - especially before a long journey. Carry a spare safety can of petrol. Be familiar with the Highway Code. Plan your route well in advance. Car jacking gangs may be more likely to target motorists who look unsure of where they are going or those who are looking at maps when stopped at traffic lights. Tell people at your destination what time you plan to arrive. Carry a charged mobile phone or at the very least change and a phone card for a payphone in an emergency.

On the Road:

Keep bags, mobile phones and other valuables out of sight: these are easy pickings for a snatch thief in a traffic jam or at the lights. Keep the doors locked, windows and sunroof closed as far as possible, especially in stop / go traffic. Always try to keep a gap between your vehicle and the one in front when stopped at traffic lights. If a car jacking gang attacks you, being too close to the vehicle in front will prevent you from escaping. If another car that does not stop nudges yours, try to take down the car details rather than following it. Some car-jacking gangs use the tactic of nudging a vehicle then attacking the owner after he has followed them for a period.

Do not pick up hitchhikers. Keep an up-to-date map handy or use a satellite navigation system so that you won't need to stop for directions. If your vehicle is under attack, dial 999 and sound your horn to draw attention to your car.

Leaving the car:

Always ensure that you take your car keys out of the vehicle if you are going into a shop or a petrol station, even if someone remains in the car. Keep windows closed if possible. Always lock your car; put anything valuable in the boot. After dark, park in a well-lit place as close to your destination as possible.

In a multi-story car park, reverse your car; leave it as close to the exit as you can, near ground level and away from pillars. Have your key ready when you return to your car; check the back seat for intruders before you get in.

If you feel threatened:

If you think you are being followed, drive to a busy place. If the occupants of a car beside you at the lights try to attract your attention, simply ignore them. If a car travels alongside you at the same speed, slow down and let them pass. If the driver persists, drive to a busy place, and call the police.

If a car pulls up in front, forcing you to stop, leave the engine on. If the driver gets out and approaches you, reverse and get away. Activate hazard lights and sound your horn continuously. If anyone tries to force down a partially open window or open an unlocked door, hit his or her hand with the nearest available object.

If you witness an incident:

If you see and incident, or if someone tries to flag you down, think before leaving your car. Is it genuine? Could you help? It might be safer and more practical to use a mobile phone, or the nearest pay / emergency phone to report what you see.

If you have a breakdown on an ordinary road:

Pull off the road as far as you can and switch on your hazard warning lights. Do not leave children alone in the car. If someone offers help, stay in the car with the doors locked and ask them to phone for help.

If you have a breakdown on the motorway:

Drive or coast to an emergency phone if you can. If you cannot drive any further, pull on to the hard shoulder and switch on your lights. Leave the car by the passenger door and walk to the nearest emergency phone.

If you decide to wait on the verge, lock all doors except the front passenger door. If a car stops while you are waiting, either use the emergency phone to tell the police the registration number or get into the passenger seat of your car and lock the door.

When your breakdown vehicle arrives, wind your window down slightly, ask the driver for identification and check that she / he knows your name