Safely answering the call of the open road

TRAVEL SMARTS

Driving: Tips on how not to become a crime victim when traveling alone

August 01, 1999|By Lisa Carden | Lisa Carden,Orlando Sentinel

This is not your father's interstate: Road rage may have existed then, but not on today's scale. And just appearing vulnerable on the road can mark you as a victim.

So here are hints on how to steer clear of trouble, courtesy of AAA, "Safety and Security for Women Who Travel" (Travelers' Tales Guides, $12.95), and the new and sassy "The Bad Girl's Guide to the Open Road" (Chronicle Books, $14.95).

Keep the gas tank at least half-full ... or is that half-empty? Whatever. The idea is to have plenty of gas so you won't run out or be forced to leave your route in search of fuel in an unsavory neighborhood.

Stay on well-lighted, well-traveled roads. If you have problems, these roads are much safer places to be.

Don't advertise the fact that you're a visitor in town. When you make stops, hide guidebooks and attraction pamphlets under a local newspaper. If you're renting a car, make sure it doesn't have a license plate code or rental company bumper sticker that could identify it as a rental.

Keep the vehicle's doors locked at all times, whether you're in or out of the car.

Avoid rest stops at night. If you must stop, make sure the rest area has a guard on duty; highway signs should tell you whether the stop has nighttime security. Or stop at a well-lighted convenience store in a populated area.

Consider joining a motor club that offers emergency roadside service. The clubs can send help, usually within an hour, should you have mechanical or tire problems on the road.

Make sure your route avoids areas of high crime. If you're unsure of where these are, get trip-planning assistance from your motor club.

Carry a cell phone or citizens band radio. These can be vital if you break down or get lost. Before leaving, check with your cell-phone company to find out the coverage areas and roaming charges.

Ladies, stow your purses on the floorboard or in the trunk. A purse on a car seat can become the target of a smash-and-grab robbery in which thieves smash the car window to grab valuables while you're at a stoplight. When you're not in the car, stow your purse and other valuables out of sight in the trunk or under a seat.

At night, park close to your destination on a well-lighted street.

Don't pick up hitchhikers. "Bad Girls" advises readers to ask themselves these questions before picking up a hitchhiker:

"Do I value my life?"

"Does he look like a serial killer?"

Regardless of what he looks like, he could be another Ted Bundy just waiting to happen, and you don't want anything to do with him.

Now we're down to the what-ifs.

What if ...

... you're being followed. Instead of leading whoever is following you to your hotel, drive to the nearest police or fire station or a well-lighted service station or convenience store, and blast your car's horn to signal for help.

... a car intentionally blocks your way. Stay in your locked car and blast the horn repeatedly to draw attention to your situation.

... a man with a blue strobe light in an unmarked car pulls up behind you. Use your best judgment. If you're unsure the man is really a police officer, keep driving at a reasonable rate of speed and signal him with a wave that you'll pull over at a nearby exit or intersection, wherever you can find other people around. Follow the same procedure at night, and be sure to stop in a well-lighted area.

Once you've stopped, ask to see the man's badge. Roll down the window an inch or so just enough to get the badge through. If you're still suspicious about him, get the badge number and use your cell phone to call the police department to confirm his identity. Call 911 and ask to be transferred to the police department in the area you're in.

... you are bumped from behind. Again, use your best judgment. If it happens during the day and you're on a busy road, it might be OK to pull off on the shoulder. If you're in doubt, especially if you're on a deserted stretch of road, keep driving and signal your intentions with a wave. Stop where there are other people around or in a well-lighted public place.

If you are unsure of the other driver's intentions, call the police or highway patrol and stay in your locked car until they arrive.

... your vehicle breaks down and you have no cell phone. Pull completely off the road, if you can. Turn on your emergency flashers and tie a cloth to the driver's door handle or antennae to signal for help. If someone stops to offer assistance, stay in your locked car and roll the window down an inch to ask them to call the police or highway patrol.

... you're a woman alone and you feel threatened. If you're in your car and have a cell phone, use it to call for help immediately. If you don't have a cell phone, drive to a well-lighted, safe area and blow your car's horn.

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