Forget what you’ve seen in vehicle gunfighting courses. We discuss what’s truly important when preparing for conflict in and around vehicles.
Alright, in Driving 101, we said we’d get to the cool stuff, and this is where it begins. Road Tactics are where we actually start hitting the skills, and apply the basics from “behind the wheel” at speed. By the end of this article, you should be able to identify some basic defensive driving techniques, when and how to apply them and how to do so without losing mobility.
In the last entry, we hit topics that could have been found on an insurance website, but no joke, if you haven’t read that material, please do.
This stuff here is the horsepower, but the previous article is the traction.
Before we get to the fun stuff, we need to touch on the nuts and bolts of maintenance. Part of staying mobile is making sure your vehicle is good to hook.. Check the picture for things to look for and do this routinely. Once a month, before and after long trips, and anytime you put hard miles on the vehicle, we need to have a look under the hood.
This is the logical extension of adjusting the car’s interior so it fits you. We want it to be comfortable when we sit in it so we can operate it smoothly. We also want it to run without trouble, and that means we need to visually inspect it to make sure there is nothing it needs. Every vehicle is different, so what I check for in a 1990 diesel is going to be completely different than what a friend looks for in a ’17 Challenger, but here’s a few things that are common to all vehicles and can be checked quickly:
- Tire pressure
- Oil level and color (checked when engine is cold). Get the correct type for your environment. Yellow, top right.
- Transmission fluid (checked when engine is warm). Make sure you identify the correct type. Orange, top right.
- Brake Fluid. Opaque reservoir, top left.
- Radiator fluid; check for color and consistency. It shouldn’t be mixing with anything. Yellow cap, bottom right.
- Power Steering Fluid (ATF); black canister, middle right.
- Wiper fluid.
- Leaks around the engine and transmission
- Leaks around the axles
- Headlights, Brake lights, Tail lights, Running Lights, Turn signals
- Oxidation around battery terminals (Can be removed with wire brush and vinegar). Check the fit as well. They can work loose over time.
This will take you 10 minutes, and can help you ensure some common consumable parts are still working. These are also common reasons for traffic stops… An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Another solid idea is to keep a road log. A simple “Rite-in-the-Rain” notepad that you can keep track of your mileage, inspections, and repairs will go a long way in helping you maintain your vehicle. Make a note of your odometer when you refuel (divide the miles by the gallons, and you can keep a running log of your MPGs), replace parts, or check fluids, changes in performance, or issues on the road.
This is less important for modern vehicles, but let’s face it: they suck and have no personality. Still, good record keeping is a decent habit.
Adapt it to your vehicle’s needs.
Route planning is exactly how it sounds; it serves to help us answer a couple important questions.
- How are you going to get where you want to go?
- What are the risks and hazards associated with that route?
- What other routes could we take if our primary choices are impassable.
In the military or protective services these plans should consider the threats, however in the civilian world, we are mostly concerned with traffic jams, bad areas of town, construction, and high traffic density. For consistency, we can use the same planning tool, which is the acronym PACE:
- Primary: the most sensible, direct, and safe route to the destination.
- Alternative: A backup route that can be used if traffic, accidents, or construction make the primary route problematic.
- Contingency: this route is typically “just in case”, and is reserved for situations in which the primary and alternative routes can’t be used. It’s typically a slower, less direct route, and often utilizes backroads or country roads that lead to the destination.
- Emergency: The emergency route is that which takes us as quickly as possible to a location that can provide emergency services, supplies, vehicle services, or safety.
We try really hard to avoid using military terminology and procedures that don’t really work in the citizen’s world. This is one instance where the military really does a good job nailing something simple down. PACE can apply to routes and communications; it might seem weird at first, but if you take the time to do this in advance, the inevitable short notice change-of-plan won’t be a setback. You’ll save yourself time and frustration.
Other things to consider when route planning are:
- Proximity to hospitals, police stations, or facilities en route.
- Fuel and service stations.
- Construction zones or areas of significant congestion (I-35. The whole thing).
- Proximity to friends or relatives that could provide a safe place to stay in an emergency.
Having driven across the US quiet a few times, I can say all these things have come in handy. You shouldn’t be fumbling with your GPS when you’re in the middle of nowhere New Mexico, trying to see what road you need. The US interstate system is insanely user friendly. Have some idea where you’re going and what’s along the way before you decide to roll out for the day. Have a map you can hold in your hand in addition to your GPS.
Communications and Navigation
Communication: We can talk about high speed HAM radios and NATO phonetic alphabets, but if we’re being real, here’s what your “comms plan” will look like:
- Primary: Cell phone
- Alternative: Handheld (FRS/GMRS) Frequency, text, or Zello (cell phone walkie-talkie app)
- Contingency; Citizen Band
- Emergency; Honking, flashing high-beams, and using hazard lights
Unless you’ve got some technical proficiency, a HAM Radio license, or are willing to deal with citizen band radios, these are the realistic options. If you don’t have one or more of these, you can also assign frequencies for alternative, contingency, and emergency communications. Even so, if you’re inclined to get more serious about your radios, check out our friend Chad’s article on trail communication.
Navigation: Navigation these days is synonymous with Cell phone GPS. That’s well and good, until it’s not. As discussed above, take out an actual map, talk to people who know the area, and make a plan. Don’t just punch an address into your phone and check ‘avoid toll roads’.
Consider the type of terrain the route will take you through. Urban spaghetti bowls are impassable when congested, so use as much information as you can to plan a route that takes into account the types of problems you’re likely to face, your vehicle’s capability, and a risk/reward metric for the route. Keep in mind some of our principles from “Understanding Emergencies“; if you’re trying to avoid a disaster, or get clear of one, you need to weigh the “Probability and Proximity”, and the “Duration and Intensity”.
People tend to panic and react irrationally, so taking steps now will mean you have more time to make good decisions in the long run. If you live in places prone to extreme weather, earthquakes, or hurricanes, the only sane approach is having extra provisions on hand.
Driving Techniques (Single Vehicle)
Now that we’ve covered some of maintenance and planning, let’s discuss techniques.
Individual techniques are intended as a skill base for the driver no matter the conditions. These apply to the individual as well as a group, in one car or many. The following definitions will discuss the situational relevance of the technique, and the video will demonstrate the technique itself.
- Y turn: The Y-Turn is a technique that is used to reverse the direction of travel in limited space. The technique can be useful for blocked roads, dead ends, or narrow roads when turn radius limits the ability to perform a U-Turn.
- Slalom, Reverse Slalom: The Slalom is a drill that builds familiarity with driving around obstacles. Done correctly, the slalom has the driver performing small, controlled corrections around obstacles at high speeds. It tests and builds hand/eye coordination, reflexes and control over the automobile.
- Down Driver: This is a topic that doesn’t get enough press in the civilian world. A down driver is a far more likely scenario than most given that it can be caused by health issues as well as conflict. If the driver becomes unable to drive, the passenger (P2, discussed below) absolutely has to act quickly to take the controls. If possible, put the vehicle in neutral and control the steering wheel. Hit the hazards and press the down driver against the door with your shoulder and try and safely exit the roadway. This can get extremely complicated, but start here and get the basics of the movement down.
- Ramming in emergencies: Front, (rear quarter, 45 MPH) Ramming for effect: Ramming vehicles is not only dangerous, it’s illegal (Destruction of property, reckless endangerment, possible aggravated assault) *but* it can sometimes be necessary. When ramming, keep in mind that speed has to be in the “Goldilocks zone”. Too slow, and you won’t move the rammed vehicle out of the way. Too fast, and it can spin quickly back into you and damage or disable your vehicle. You want to ram the rear of the vehicle where it’s lightest and use the heavier end (engine bay) as a pivot point.
- Vehicle Down: The sad situation in which your vehicle goes down under stress. If it’s not a hostile situation, take stock of the problem. If it’s a blowout, coast, don’t brake (which can cause the front end to dip, and damage the wheel). If your engine dies, hit your hazards and work your way off the road as much as possible. If it’s an accident, hit your hazards and start checking for injuries. Revert to the exit protocol, and get out of the vehicle (as soon as it’s safe). If it is hostile, exit the vehicle as quickly as possible by way of the side not taking fire.
Some Hard Lessons
I’d like to share a couple of occasions where I’ve been cornered in the civilian world by drivers who wanted to shoot it out or fight. In one, we were on a dead end road when a truck with a couple dudes with guns boxed us in. It was night, and they used light effective to blind the driver, who didn’t see they were holding guns until they started to move up on the car. After taking off with no real way to get out, they began to kick and bash the rear of the vehicle. In this case, a Y-turn while they were away from their rig got us a few spare seconds and we got out of there.
The lesson here is keep moving. Don’t expect that if you turn off the road, an aggressive driver will keep moving. You absolutely do not want to find yourself less mobile. If you’re the car in front, expect you’ll be at every disadvantage.
The second time, a guy got out and reached in my window trying to choke me. He was a 60-something male with a female passenger. I was doing the speed limit on a country road and he began tailgating me. Trying to be cool, I slowed and pulled off to the side so he could go around, but he didn’t. When I finally stopped (again as the lead vehicle), he got out and approached from the side where he had all the advantages.
Being pretty young, I stalled the vehicle by letting off the clutch when he started punching and kicking my vehicle. In between lobbing rocks and trying to hit me through the window, he found time to punch his wife and knock her down as well. Remember what we talked about in Spheres of Violence? We don’t get to pick who’s rational.
Once I got the vehicle started, he was still half in the truck, so I had to punch it to shake him off. He hit the ground hard and rolled almost all the way across the other lane. His arm had been ‘caught’ in my window when I gassed it, and it put him in a pretty bad position. Seeing that he was down, but not out, and weighing it against his irrationality, I put the truck in reverse and smashed the front of his car hoping to do enough damage that he wouldn’t be able to give chase.
What led to all this 190 second spat of temporary insanity?
Dude was way outside of the target demographic for random violence. He had every chance to just go around me, but he still choose to make it a fight.
So, how could the situations have been made worse?
Shooting it out. Diving under my car doing some ninja stuff, Salient Arms Glock in hand.
Even if you get caught in road rage, some basic hand to hand and positional knowledge is necessary, and because it’s more complicated doesn’t mean that guns are the solution… They’re just an option.
Keep this in mind when you think of fighting in and around vehicles without a badge or uniform on.
Let’s discuss some of the positions in vehicles, and how we can use them to increase our security if we need to. Really, it’s helpful even for just cruising around, so apply it (or don’t), but at least be aware that this can certainly improve your security if you’re rollin’ deep.
Driver: Driver drives. Don’t try and shoot through windows, or hold your pistol in one hand while using your cell phone in the other. Just drive. Focus on the road. The most likely hazards are going to come from distracted/impaired driving, or preventable problems like blowouts.
If you find yourself in conflict on the road, focus on using the vehicle as your primary tool. Data dump the stuff you see in vehicle tactics classes unless you’re boxed in, or your vehicle is disabled. There is case study after case study regarding the efficacy of trying to drive and shoot while at speed. If you’re a citizen and single occupant, focus on breaking contact and getting out of there, whether on foot or in your vehicle. Mobility is your goal.
It’s more important to not get shot than it is to shoot people.
Shotgun (P2): The passenger in the front, Shotgun is responsible for keeping the front and side of the vehicle accounted for. At stops, they should be assisting the driver by letting them know verbally and visually when the path is clear (a thumbs up and “clear right” or thumbs down and “Not clear” does just fine). This might seem a little military or uptight, but it’s actually a really helpful practice.
Shotgun is also responsible for navigation while moving. If it’s just driver and passenger, they can pick up phone calls if there’s no bluetooth and shotgun works the radio if you’re in a convoy.
P3: The right rear passenger is responsible for the right flank of the vehicle. Their job is to keep an eye out for vehicles approaching from their side, and give the drive and P2 a heads up if something looks sketchy. They also handle communications, if possible. P3 can also keep a heads up to the rear, if P4 doesn’t show up for the party.
P4: The left rear passenger keeps a heads up on the left flank and to the rear. P4’s primary responsibility is to keep their head on a swivel, since they don’t have any other task.
This is a sort of academic breakdown of how professionals use these positions, and it’s weird to expect people in the civilian world to be doing this all the time.
It doesn’t have to be a lifestyle, just be aware of best practice for security on the road.
Use some judgment and the conditions of awareness; if you’re not worried about anything weird going on, just drive (condition white). If you’re trying to make a trade after a civil war has cut off your city from resources, and you’ve got one of the few working cars, this should be taken very seriously.
These roles stay the same once you stop; if you need security, Driver and P3 Stay with the vehicle, while shotgun and P4, can split off to take care of business. Keys stay on the driver.
You’ll want to make sure no one messes with your ride while you’re taking care of whatever needs to be done.
Dealing with Threats
Most courses on vehicle tactics use threats taken from police or military operations. While there’s a place for this, most civilian based vehicle problems are the direct result of one of a few things:
- Road Rage
In all of these instances, mobility is your friend. However, having been in several of these types of problems, being rational and reasonable doesn’t mean the other guy is. You have to have a plan for that.
If you aren’t forced to stop, don’t.
Just like managing unknown contacts in the interpersonal Sphere of Violence, we want to have time and space on our side. In your vehicle, this means using mobility to stack the cards in your favor. If you aren’t forced to stop, don’t.
De-escalate by staying aware, staying away and staying mobile. This isn’t an oversimplification. Don’t follow people, try and get above your anger and if the let the threat pass around you. If you let them pass, you can exit the road and evade further confrontation. If you can’t and have to stop, there are a few basic precautions:
- Try and find an area with police or armed security. It’s not a certainty they’ll help, but they’re a visual deterrent for social violence.
- Don’t go home – you don’t want them following you to where you live, or to the home of a loved one. You’re better off doing circles than leading them to your home.
- Try and keep them in front of you, where you have more time to react, and they have fewer options (both moving and parked)
It’s not always possible to stay mobile, and sometimes the conditions and location force you into a stop, or a vulnerably low speed. If so, again, focus on keeping them ahead of you; this posture while in your vehicle is like staying low when grappling, and here are some of the advantages of forcing them to stop in front of you:
- You’ll maintain visual dominance; their restriction will be limited until;
- They will have to turn around and disembark the vehicle before they can maneuver.
- You’ll have the option to maintain mobility and get moving if they do get out (NOTE: a word on that: don’t just launch back out into traffic. If you panic and stomp the accelerator you might get hit by another car. Keep that situational awareness in play, remember the exit protocol, and be ready to move first.)
- If it’s dark, your lights can act as a “wall”, which will obscure your movement and give you an edge if they do intend to get out and push the fight.
For this reason, if you *do* have to stop, try and do so in a way that doesn’t allow them to stop behind you. Often times guard rails curve slightly in after bridges or where the shoulder begins… if you can pull in just in front of those, the threat will be forced to pass you, and hopefully just continue on. If they don’t, they’ll be stopping in a non-dominant position that favors you.
Your plan should be avoidance, not conflict.
Car jacking and vehicle theft are still really common crimes in the U.S. and abroad. Seems like common sense, but keep your doors locked while on the road. If you do have to stop (especially in the God-awful traffic the rest of the world has), try and keep some space that you can tap the gas if someone approaches your vehicle. Be aware that jackers can work in teams; one distracts the driver (approaches, ask for something) while the other approaches from the blind side and opens the door, breaks the glass, or presents the weapon.
If you find yourself in foreign countries, there are often checkpoints… both official and unofficial, asking for ‘tolls’. This seriously hasn’t changed in forever. Travel has *always* been a risky undertaking for humans, and tolls are apart of that. It might be easier to just play it cool and pay. Especially in the third world.
It should go without saying that if you’re in a hostile nation, you should have an escape plan, as well as someone who can pay ransom.
More and more, we’re seeing ‘peaceful’ protests just the fence and go full tilt stupid. From Philadelphia to Portland Oregon, mobs deserve some special attention. First off, just fake it. If you’re not advertising your political bent on your bumper, just tell them what they wanna hear.
Pull an Adam Sandler, and just Join the Cult.
When they say capitalists suck, say yeah, f*** the capitalists, I f***in’ hate ’em too. Long live the f***in’ commies.
These people don’t need to know your politics.
If you DO have stickers that identify you, don’t be an idiot and push your chips forward. Just pass it off as stickers you’ve been meaning to scrap off since you bought the rig off some hippy/hillbilly. Don’t play zero sum games. Work them interpersonal communication skills.
The time to negotiate is from a position of strength. If you don’t have the ability to say no, it’s not a negotiation. So don’t, not when you’re outnumbered by crowds that have a propensity for lighting things on fire and tipping vehicles over. While we’re on that topic, read Greg Ellifritz’s article on Molotov Attacks.
If you’re in a vehicle, your mobility is your chief asset. Don’t get the idea you can just ‘mow ’em down’ in your full sized pickup. If they don’t move, the laws of physics won’t let you get too far.
Not only do these groups block roads with trash (and burning trash), but keep in mind a deer will disable a vehicle if hit at speed. It’s unrealistic to think you’re going to plow through a morass of things twice as heavy as a deer and numbered in the hundreds or thousands.
A final word on threats in vehicles: the courses we see are almost always sterilized “black and white” situations in which you’re the good guy and you shoot a bad guy.
Reality is you’re probably driving around with kids and a wife, and the other person is probably not a terrible human being. Your plan should be avoidance, not conflict. The only situations worth risking your family are those in which there is no other option.
Consider how those complications will affect the ‘shoot em up‘ fantasy camp approach.
Later in life, both working in uniform and as a civilian, I’ve encountered similar situations to anecdotes, 1. Using the principles above, managing road rage and road based altercations is *far* easier. There may still be better ways yet, but at present if you can get the other car to move in front of you, and quickly take an exit, you win by default. Barring that, I had a situation unfold in which a man became irate for the weirdest reason…
As I pulled up to a red light, I could see him yelling in the rear view, and dismissed it. After all, I hadn’t done anything out of the norm. Next stop light, he’s doing the same thing. I look back, and he points at me. OK, now we’ve got something. In an effort to defuse, I turned back and ask “What’s the problem, sir?” He leans out and screams at me “You left like two f**king car lengths in front of you!”
Strange thing to get mad at, right?
Have you ever considered how your good habits could start a fight? I hadn’t.
In any case, the guy follows close (mind you, there’s an entire other lane and he could just go around) but he persists for a few miles before I find a spot to pull off.
I pulled off in such a way that angled my vehicle’s front end towards the road, and placed his in front where he’d have to turn, exit his vehicle, and approach me head on. I start the exit protocol and pause with the door slightly open, so I can jump and move, or gun it and get back on the road. I’ve steel in my hand, because there’s two of them and one of me.
The guy starts getting out, sees I’m a step ahead, and starts to drive off.
A few miles down the road, he slows way down, pulls along side me, and rolls his window down.
“Hey man, I’m sorry, I didn’t have any reason to act like that.”
So, what I want to know is: where would shooting through the glass, or running up and blazing his truck have fixed the problem?
Be ready for that moment at which the situation can flash over, but be smart about acting. It’s a fine line, it’s deadly serious, and there are consequences.
When it does get Violent
So your vehicle is immobilized. You can’t deescalate. What then?
Well, there are a few basic principles. First off, if you’re in a disabled vehicle, that thing is a vengeance sponge. The next step in staying mobile is hit it on foot and get as far as you can as fast as you can.
If you’re in the midst of a mob, ditch and cut your losses. If you’ve got kids or a passenger, coordinate getting our so you’re all moving out the same exit as fast as possible. If you’ve got a smoke or CS canister, it might due to toss one out and get yourself some space.
In the case of Road Rage, think in terms of tactics: either get clear of the vehicle and behind something sturdy (cover), or find a part of the vehicle that provides *some* ballistic protection.
As everyone in the tactical world has known forever, cars just don’t stop bullets effectively with two exceptions: The Axles and the Engine Block. Those two spots offer some limited protection, but if you get stuck without options to move, it’s hard not to lose initiative… especially if you’re being attacked by more than one person.
If you’ve got space and are taking fire from a more distant threat, which happens when the driver detects a roadblock or checkpoint before they’re able to hem you up, you’ve got the option to bail out and recover gear, or just GTFO.
Recovering gear is probably the single ‘tactical’ decision that we view as reasonable to train for; it requires coordinated fire (so there’s always a gun on the target) while your partner recovers their family or equipment (and/or better weapons) before they move to a position that they can cover you while you do the same.
Some basic principles for bailing out tha’ whip:
- Remember the exit protocol. Brake, park, seatbelt. You don’t want your sled rollin’ down the road with your kid or kit in the back.
- Exit the “clean” side: the side not taking fire… even if you’re not on that side.
- When maneuvering inside a vehicle, the much hated ‘temple index‘ has it’s place. It allows you to move, keep your weapon physically indexed, and not point it at anyone who doesn’t have it coming.
- If you’ve got a person down, get them away as fast as possible. If they’re conscious, make them treat themselves. If they can’t, have them provide cover. If they can’t do that, move them if you can. Sometimes you can’t. Know the difference.
- Get off the street. Especially if you’ve got wounded, hold up and make them fight the tactical disadvantages as attackers. Call for help if you’ve got the option. Stay off the radar if at all possible.
Driving is a complex issue and it’s almost all experiential. Tactics in and around vehicles, even more so… which is why all anyone focuses on is shooting out your windshield or throwing yourself on the ground under the car. We hope that at this point in the article you can see how neither of those help a whole lot in the end game of mobility. As with all things, ask the hard questions. If no one can tell you why a technique is relevant and back it up with real world experience, it’s probably not relevant.
So, while reading about it can help you take some of the first steps and we hope the material presented is useful in getting your started, it’s no where near sufficient. Get behind the wheel and practice defensive driving. Get to know your vehicle, take good care of it, and be smart about how you travel. Keep in mind that traffic related deaths and injuries are once again on the rise (special thanks to cell phones), so *don’t be that idiot watching movies while you drive*.
That guy will get someone killed. Our goal is to get stronger and stay alive… Not be the lowest common denominator and put people at risk. Be serious about everything you do. It’s a mark of quality.
We hope you enjoyed this article, and in our next in the series we’ll discuss off-road expeditions.