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Women's Safety on the Road

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author photo by Autotrader October 2007

Equal rights does not mean equal risk. It's an unfortunate truth that women, especially if they are by themselves, face threats on the road that men generally don't have to worry about.

There have been numerous instances of women being followed by vehicular stalkers, and then attacked. Men may get flipped the bird, even physically assaulted, but they usually are not the target of sexual attack.

Women may also be less suited to deal with certain roadside problems, such as a flat tire. It's not sexist (or shouldn't be) to point out that changing a tire is not just messy, it often requires a fair amount of strength to manipulate the cheesy little hand jacks provided by most automakers, or to loosen lug nuts tightened to 75 lb-ft, or to heave a 30- or 40-pound spare wheel and tire from the trunk and get it mounted on the car.

Here's some advice on how to deal with some of the potential problems facing women on the road - and how to avoid those problems in the first place.

Traffic stops

  • Be wary of unmarked cars
  • Consider the cop
  • Ask for backup

An ugly tactic employed by some sexual predators has been to acquire a police-type vehicle (e.g., a Ford Crown Victoria or Chevrolet Caprice), obtain police-type flashing lights of the style used by unmarked patrol cars (readily available at police supply stores) and then use this gear to stage phony traffic stops for the purpose of assaulting female motorists.

Most people will immediately pull over when they see a flashing blue or red light - and predators use this law-abiding instinct to their advantage. However, the fact that a blue or red light is flashing does not necessarily mean it's a cop behind you.

Always be wary of unmarked cars, especially if you are being pulled over for no apparent reason or if the area in which you are being pulled over is not well-traveled, or it's late at night.

Also consider the cop himself. Alarm bells should go off if the person who comes to your window is not a well-trimmed, neatly dressed person in full police uniform, with his badge and name tag clearly visible. Even if the car is unmarked, a traffic officer will almost always be in uniform (unless he's off-duty). He should look - and behave - like a cop. That means the correct uniform for the jurisdiction, business-like and calm demeanor and no weird or unusual requests. His conversation and tone should be polite but fairly official: "May I see your license and registration, please." Any kind of personal conversation, threatening or abusive language, sexual-oriented or suggestive language, etc. is definitely not the normal thing.

It is your right to ask to see the badge and identification of the person pulling you over. If he is a real policeman, this request will not be a problem. Keep your window rolled up as you do this, by the way. If the "officer" claims not to have ID, or a badge, the guy is almost certainly not a real cop. Get out of there as quickly as you can and immediately contact the real police to inform them of what happened. You also have the right to ask for backup - to ask that another officer be called to the scene of the traffic stop if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Remain in your car and keep the window rolled up. If the "officer" won't call for another policeman to show up, he may not be a real officer at all. 

Flats and roadside emergencies

  • Get to the side
  • Keep a fix-it can
  • Get it repaired

Changing a tire by the side of the road has become a real hazard, whether you're male or female. Dozens of people are killed each year as a result of an inattentive motorist plowing into a disabled car parked on the shoulder.

The other issue is that almost all new cars are equipped with barely usable "jacks" that can be exceptionally difficult to use, are rickety and often just plain dangerous. The inherent problems with these flimsy little things are magnified by where you happen to break down. If the surface is not level and firm, for example, the jack can slip, or sink into the turf. When you're dealing with 3000-plus pounds of steel, this is not a good thing. The pitiful "lug wrench" also equipped falls into the same not-so-useful category.

Given the dangers, it's better to avoid changing the tire at all, if you can. But first you'll need to get to the side to use the wonders of science and fix your tire. The technology exists: it's called inflatable tire sealant, basically a can of pressurized carbon dioxide and liquid gloop that can be used to temporarily seal and inflate a wounded tire. Fix-a-Flat is the most well-known brand, but there are many others. They all work more or less the same way. You shake the can, screw the nozzle into the valve on the flat tire and presto! It fills with compressed C02, while the gloop/sealant patches the hole. Always keep a fix-it can of this stuff, which sells for less than $10 per can, in the trunk. This minimizes your exposure to being run down by a careless motorist - and saves your knuckles from being skinned, too.

The caveats with inflatable sealants are twofold. One, the repair is not meant to be permanent. Go to a tire shop as soon as possible and get it repaired. Second, when you go to the tire shop, be sure to let the technician know you have used the inflatable sealant. Special caution must be used when dismounting a tire with sealant inside it. For the safety of the technician, don't forget to tell him.

Breakdowns

  • Pull way over
  • Put on flashers
  • Make a call

If the car itself has become disabled due to engine or other trouble, pull way over - off the road as far as you possibly can. Then, put on your emergency flashers. And finally, when you're out of harm's way, if you have a cell phone, make the call to family or friends to let them know where you are and what's happened. If you have a road service agreement (such as AAA), call them. It's a very good idea to buy one of those "for emergency use only" cell phones that you keep with the car. The fees are very low because the phones are not intended to be used for any other purpose than making an emergency call in the event of a breakdown or similar emergency.

Generally, it's better to stay with the vehicle than to hazard walking along the side of a busy freeway. But you should not sit in the car, if possible. Provided it's not brutally cold, sizzling hot, or pouring rain, it's a good idea to get out of the car and stand/sit on the grass or an embankment - as far away from the traffic as you can. You want to avoid getting run over by a wandering semi or oblivious motorist.

Many states have road safety patrols that will come along eventually; they can help you get a tow truck, or get to a nearby gas station for help. Police, too, will sometimes stop to help, if they are not on a call. If you see a police car, try and flag him down.

In the event a good samaritan stops to offer assistance, be grateful but use common sense. If the person has a cell phone, ask to use it or ask them to call for help on your behalf. Avoid accepting a ride from a total stranger unless you are pretty confident the person offering the ride has no hidden agenda. A woman, or a couple, or a man with his kids - these are all pretty safe bets. Single men - especially if they appear disheveled, nervous or unkempt - are best avoided. Being stuck by the side of the road for an hour or two is infinitely preferable to being "taken for a ride."


© 2007 The Car Connection

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Women's Safety on the Road - Autotrader