I guess I need to start coming up with better clickbait titles. I’ll probably get a bunch of, “Fantastic Four,” and CM Punk fans, and that’s totally cool. But, not at all related to what I am going to write about here. If I call this, “Offensive Driving for Rookies,” most people won’t read it. Because most American males think that they can drive like Mario Andretti, shoot like John Wick and really, that’s just not factual. If you read my article on BECOMING THE CIVILIAN DEFENDER, you will recall that I talked about the need to have enhanced driving skills. These are driving skills that go beyond the basics of what one would learn in a high school driver’s education course. No doubt, those basic skills are important, and should be mastered, but for the truly prepared individual, it helps to learn and master a bit beyond the basics. Now, I’m not recommending that everyone learn how to drive like Steve McQueen, but it helps to know a few distinct skills and tactics that can help you get out of a hairy situation.
I came up with this list after years of working in the armored truck industry, and as a fireman and emergency medical technician. In the armored truck industry, the main requirement for ultra-defensive driving was to prevent ambushes and move around city and highway traffic safely. We used to call them, “Highwaymen,” and now we call them, “carjackers,” or simply, “robbers.” But, as long as people have been putting valuables into armored boxes and moving them from place to place, there have been badguys who are determined to get their filthy hands on those valuables. So you need to have some driving game to escape those situations. Remember, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, the mission of the armored truck industry is to deliver the goods, and go home safely, after your shift ends…you know, JUST LIKE ANY OTHER CIVILIAN. Armored trucks have no duty to engage in a firefight with a bad guy, nor render mutual aid to law enforcement OR anyone else. Hollywood loves armored trucks, and 99% of what you’ve seen or heard about the armored truck industry is lore, and nothing more.
In the public safety industry, whether you are driving a police cruiser, an ambulance, or a fire engine, your need for defensive driving is underlined by the fact that despite the flashing lights all over your vehicle, and the 150 decibel siren you have screaming out from under your grille, most drivers are completely oblivious to their surroundings, and what is going on outside the cab of their respective conveyance. Whether they are tied up in a verbal domestic with another occupant, or be-bopping to their tunes, or talking on their phone or even worse, TEXTING on their phone, they simply do not see you. So, half of the peril in being a first responder is GETTING there, in one piece, so that none of your coworkers have to be in the, “rescue the rescuers,” role.
With all of that said, here are a few points and skills that I think, are important to consider for the truly prepared CIVILIAN DEFENDER. These are the tips I would give my rookies, in the ambulance and in the armored truck, to help them ensure success. After all, they are driving around with me in that truck, too. I’ll also teach my Son these tricks, in the next few years as he learns to drive.
- KNOW, instinctively, the location of all four (or six) wheels of your vehicle, as easily as you know where your hands are in the dark. Webster’s Dictionary defines, “proprioception,” as: ” the reception of stimuli produced within the organism.” By this, I mean you should know, without thinking, where the four corners of your vehicle are, when you are behind the wheel, and by knowing this, also know where your wheels are. If you do, you can look at a space and judge whether or not you can fit there. I know my truck is 74 inches wide…two inches narrower than I am tall. I can look at a space and determine if I can fit there, and if I can fit, so can my truck! Go to any parking lot and look around. How many of those folks have done a crap job of parking their cars? Crooked in the space, too far to either side, extended into another space. Those folks either knowingly parked like a jerk, or they simply don’t know what they are doing. I’d wager to say that most of them simply don’t know. Another good example of this is when people attempt to back into a spot, or make a three point backing maneuver to get into/out of some space. We’ve all seen that person turn a simple two point maneuver into a seven, eight, or NINE point turn. We laugh because it’s funny, but we also laugh because it is true! If that person had any inkling of the actual dimensions of their vehicle, they’d know that they in fact had FEET around them, and weren’t in danger of hitting any obstacle. They simply didn’t know what they didn’t know.
- KNOW the performance capabilities of your vehicle…and DO NOT overestimate or underestimate them. How many times have you seen an obviously off-road capable vehicle (like a Toyota FJ, or a 4Runner) slide off of the side of the road, when it is snowing (or even raining) simply because the driver didn’t know what their vehicle was (or wasn’t) capable of doing? It happens in inclement weather states, all the time! Years back, in Western Washington State, my roommate and I made several hundred dollars a day just driving around in the snow, looking for motorists that had drifted off the road in the snow, and needed us to pull them out (using a Jeep and a winch). “Want to get back on the road? $20 please!” Furthermore, how many people think that they can, “dodge,” out into oncoming traffic, in a vehicle that does 0-60mph in MINUTES? That doesn’t work well either, for anyone involved. So don’t get out onto the open road until you know how much, “go,” your vehicle has, as well as how well the vehicle stops, and how tight you can turn (in the event you need to make a U turn on a street without breaking traction).
- Don’t allow yourself to get, “stuck,” anywhere. At a stoplight? Make sure you have enough room to move. How much is enough? I like to be able to see the area between the tires of the vehicle in front of me, and the road underneath it. That gives me enough space to maneuver my pickup truck or my SUV laterally, if I need to get out of that area, quickly. It also prevents me from getting pinned between the vehicle in front of me, if there is one. Too many road rage incidents happen these days, and usually one of the involved parties is unwilling to engage. Hopefully, that person can simply escape the area and get mobile. The last place you want to be in a violent scenario is trapped inside of an immobile vehicle. Think of yourself as a shark…if you quit moving, you die! READ THIS recent account of one of my esteemed colleagues, and an incident he got into with a road rager!
- You are behind the wheel of an extremely effective battering ram…if an attacking vehicle attempts to block your egress, BLIND THEM WITH SCIENCE! This thought process applied well to the armored truck, since they contained a tremendous amount of mass (20 tons) in a package just slightly larger (taller) than an extended length SUV. If you aim the centerline of your vehicle at a car that is attempting to block your path, aim for the axle closest to you. On impact, that vehicle will rotate about the opposite axle, and be quickly, and forcefully whipped out of your way. You can do this driving forward, or in reverse, direction doesn’t matter. If the vehicle is traveling head on, align the center of your vehicle with the outer edge of the attacker. Of course, in a truck that you have to back with mirrors alone, this is more difficult, but still not impossible. In a conventional passenger car, truck or SUV, this also works well. Also, you don’t have to be traveling tremendously fast to get good results with this. You’d be surprised what one 4000 vehicle traveling at 15mph can do to another vehicle trying to impede its progress…it can blow it right out of the way, with just a little direction and TWO TONS of science!
- LOOK in the direction your vehicle is going. We get too reliant on mirrors, cameras and technology, and forget that the headrest on the passenger seat is there to give you something to hold onto and bolster yourself against when backing! I read once that, “MOST motor vehicle collisions are caused by people NOT looking in the direction that their vehicle is traveling!” Can you believe that? It sounds inane, but in my experience, I’ve witnessed many vehicular collisions that were realized when the person looked up from whatever they were doing, which wasn’t looking in the direction their vehicle was traveling! So simple, and yet so common.
- You’ve never been lost until you’ve been lost at MACH 2. As a child of a Naval Aviator, mantras like this were common in my youth. And having learned to drive from said aviator, I quickly learned, by the loud voice coming from the passenger seat, to keep my, “eye on the sky,” ahead of me…several vehicles ahead of me. If you don’t, you are relying on the guy in front of you to react to whatever threats come along the road. Broken tires, radar traps, potholes (big hazard in Tennessee…like knock your tire off the bead potholes) drunks, erratic drivers. All of these things don’t exist in a vacuum, and the easiest way to avoid them is to simply NOT be there when they pass. See them, identify them, take evasive action, look for the next threat. Of course, you aren’t traveling at MACH 2, but you get the point. Even at a modest 60 miles per hour, you are moving along at 88 feet per second! To even react to something (human reaction time is .25 seconds average from visual stimulus) at 60 miles per hour (like a collision in front of you) you have already traveled 22 feet! So conserve your mental focus, maintain your following distance, and keep your eyes on the road!
- The driver DRIVES, the shotgun SHOOTS. When I was in my law enforcement degree studies, a part of the training was relative to what was called, “Officer Survival.” One of the tactics germaine to the topic was to not let anyone, “walk up,” on your patrol car, since they could essentially fill your car full of bullets, while you just sat there and took it. So, to pass that grading portion, you had to be hypervigiliant about NOT getting caught in your vehicle. And I figured out quickly that the best way to rapidly egress my vehicle on an aggressive walk up was with a pistol already in hand! Well, fast forward to my first foray into the ghettos of South Seattle, in a fully armored truck (my door doesn’t open, mind you…it’s bolted shut, in fact). I pull to a stop light, and notice that there are six youths posted up on the corner, and all of them are mean mugging me. The light is still red. They start to walk, all at once, directly for my door, and I draw my pistol, instinctively and bring it up to eye level. The light turned green and I hit the gas, blowing past the six turds, who stood there, in a cloud of black diesel smoke. I looked in the rear view mirror at my partner who said, “Mr. Sherman…you’ll find that our vehicle is quite resilient against anything a bunch of hoodlums in shorts and undershirts can conceal on their person. You just worry about driving.” I felt like a dope, holstered my pistol, and went back to worrying about driving. The reason that you and your friends yell, “SHOTGUN,” (meaning the guy that rides in the passenger seat, up front) is because in the, “old days,” when an armored truck consisted of a stage coach with an iron and wood, “strong box,” mounted somewhere in it (usually under the butts of the crew) the guy that handled the reins of the horses was called the, “driver.” The guy with the shotgun was called the, “shotgun messenger,” or just the, “shotgun.” His job was to shoot any highwaymen, or interlopers that would impede the normal progress of the coach. Same with the armored truck…same with you and your soccer Mom van…when you are moving, and still capable of moving (meaning your vehicle has not been disabled by physical damage) your best defensive and offensive weapon is your vehicle! Someone tries to pin you but you smash them out of the way and round a corner? KEEP DRIVING AND CALL 911! Let the police get there and stop the bad guys. Under most circumstances, unless your vehicle becomes irreparably immobile, does the, “driving solution,” go out the window in favor of the, “shooting solution.”
There are other skills and tactics that you can think of, and if so, share them in the comments section. These are a few that I KNOW work, because I’ve used them myself, or seen them used in my presence, OR I’ve seen the aftermath as a first responder.
Thanks for reading!