Pedal to the Metal: 5 Tactical Driving Tips for the Everyday Civilian - ITS Tactical

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Pedal to the Metal: 5 Tactical Driving Tips for the Everyday Civilian

By Wyatt Knox

Rarely, if ever, will you need to use advanced tactical driving skills as a civilian on the streets of the United States. The chances of driving into an ambush, encountering a hostile checkpoint, taking contact from another vehicle, or most other scenarios professionals train for are so low, that they’re most likely not worth training for as an everyday driver.

However, there are a few very specific and tactical driving techniques you can do to improve your daily driving habits and put yourself into favorable positions, should the need arise for some evasive maneuvering. Maybe you’re running late for an appointment and come across a road completely blocked for traffic, or you encounter some kind of protest, demonstration or other political/social event blocking your intended route. Perhaps the hair on the back of your neck just stands up and you decide it’s time to get the hell out of wherever you are.

The tips below are merely suggestions; basic skills that may help minimize risk to your vehicle and its occupants. They contribute to the mindset of being ready for anything you might encounter on the road.

If You’re the Driver, You’re the Driver


As the driver, your job is to assess the situations you’re coming up on, make decisions, stay in control of the vehicle and get to where you’re going in one piece. The other occupants of the vehicle are responsible for whatever other tasks need to happen along the way. No matter what the other tasks are, the driver needs to stay focused on the task at hand and keep a 360 degree awareness of what ‘s going on around the vehicle and where it’s headed.

If you’re driving solo and need to navigate, stick to interstates and main roads as much as possible unless you’re very familiar with the area you’re traveling through, or have done some real route planning with contingencies ahead of time.

Keep Moving


Ever heard of someone getting pulled out of their car while doing 70 mph down the interstate?  Of course not, because it doesn’t happen. Driving through a rough neighborhood or another situation that has you seriously questioning your safety and the safety of your occupants or cargo?  Put the windows up, lock the doors and don’t stop; it’s that simple. Even five to ten miles an hour makes you a much harder target for a potential assailant.

If you feel threatened enough to roll through a stop sign or break some other minor traffic law, you’re obviously at the point at which you need Law Enforcement. What’s the worst that could happen, the police pull you over?  Great, that should be a huge relief!  If you’re in the frame of mind where you’re seriously questioning your safety, a Police Officer showing up with the blues on is one of the best possible scenarios.

Leave Enough Room


Anytime you have to stop, always allow enough room in front of your vehicle to move expediently forward. This really can’t be stressed enough and can be practiced daily until it becomes natural. A stopped, boxed in, immobile car, is the worst possible situation to be in when things go south. Always leave a half a car length or more between yourself and the car in front of you at a stop light, so you’ll have a few options. Also consider stopping slightly to one side or the other, where you may have better visibility or an exit route.

Also think about hanging back from stopped traffic to allow access to a side street or parking lot you may be able to use. Always back into parking spaces with clear routes of egress when parking is necessary. Basically, you need to ask yourself “Can I get moving and up to speed quickly right now if I need to?” If the answer is no, fix it. Getting boxed in or doing multi-point turns on the X is simply not an option.

If You Can’t Move Forward, Move Back


In any situation that you’ve driven into where you can’t drive through or around, backing out is going to be the fastest way to put distance between yourself and a potential threat. Sound easy?  It’s not. When driving backwards, it’s important to remember your car is now rear-steering, making it very unstable. In addition, the brake balance is backwards and your driveline is reversed, not to mention the bad visibility you’re going to have and the serious alignment issues.

All of this can make your car a total basket case to drive quickly in reverse and it takes some getting used to. However, it’s definitely the best way to get a safe distance between you and a threat, if it can’t be driven through or around. Always be prepared to reverse at speed and practice a few simple backing exercises with different vehicles.

Leave Hollywood to the Stuntmen


Can you do forward and reverse 180’s? Great! We love this kind of tactical driving too and still it as part of our training, but operationally, the chances of you making the informed decision to use a 180 spin should be tiny. Basically, take them right off the list of options unless you’re trying to impress a date or looking for more creative and entertaining ways to get in and out of your driveway.

Very simply put, modern skid prevention systems in your car will more than likely not allow it to happen and there’s a high chance of hitting an obstacle, damaging/rolling your vehicle, or simply botching the maneuver and doing a 3-point turn anyway. If there’s a serious threat, drive around or through if possible.

If not, reverse quickly to a safe distance and get turned around or find cover where you can. Even backing up at 30 mph for 5 seconds will put you over two hundred feet from where you stopped and most likely well out of range of whatever you’re trying to avoid.

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Wyatt is the 2011 2-Wheel Drive US Rally Champion, Special Projects Director at the Team O’Neil Rally School and is now racing internationally as well as doing private instruction and coaching.

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  • David Mocarsky

    Always back in to parking spots.

  • Mike Wassef

    Giovanni Contreras check this out bro

  • Eduardo Gonzalez

    Especially if you’re chased down by a police officer for no reason, and you’re desperate to get to Canada safely.

  • Brian Wright

    I could not agree more about keeping space between you a the vehicle in front of you at a stop. I have been doing that for years

  • Lance Vejvoda

    Good article that mentions some things I already incorporate into my driving. I have wondered if driving is an often neglected area of training for those of us that have a tactical mindset and want to be prepared, given how much time many of us spend in our vehicles. The first paragraph is very accurate in that civilians won’t face those scenarios stateside that the tactical driving courses address. Are there some good courses for the everyday driver that address high speed driving on the intestate and reacting to unforeseen obstacles, braking hard on wet pavement, accelerating on turns and finding the apex, pushing the limits of a vehicle on how fast to take a turn and when to brake, etc? A course that will make someone a hands down better driver, but also in a performance driving aspect and not just from a defensive driving mindset and awareness of other vehicles?

    • Lance Vejvoda

      After commenting I went to the author’s website and the content in the rally courses seem to offer what I’m talking about. However, $1,200 a day is pretty damn expensive! I can take a two day firearms class with a top level instructor for quite a bit less than that. I’m not familiar with rally car racing aside from seeing vehicles I wasn’t interested in driving fast on non asphalt roads. Anyone else reading this know of some good schools and ones not as expensive?

    • Caroll Shelby

      When you take a two day firearms class with a top level instructor, you’re putting wear and tear on your own gun that cost probably less than $2,000, doing things the gun was designed to do, using your own ammo, and you walk away with your equipment typically requiring no repairs or significant maintenance…Not to mention firearms instructor insurance isn’t that expensive either.
      When you take a two day driving class with a top level instructor, you’re putting wear and tear on someone else’s vehicle that cost them tens of thousands of dollars, doing things the vehicle was not designed to do, using someone else’s tires and gas, and you walk away leaving the instructor with a torn up vehicle that requires hundreds or thousands of dollars of repairs or maintenance…Not to mention the insurance policy to own a fleet of defensive driving vehicles for a defensive driving school is insanely expensive.
      Yeah, uh huh…Those two things are directly comparable and should cost about the same.  😉

  • Cory Conger

    Can Rally Car 3-gun be a thing? Because I feel like that would be awesome. Like hop in the car, drive a stage to a range, do a 3-gun course, hop in the car, another stage to an LR range, do a course of fire, hop in the car, and across the line.

    • emtdaddy1980


  • Great advice, particularly that about not getting boxed in by traffic. It’s not just about danger from criminals.  I had two, thankfully minor ones, because I was stopped in traffic and, although I could see I was about to be rear-ended, I was too close to the car ahead to move out of the way. All I could do was put my foot lightly on the brake, so rolling forward would absorb some of the shock, but I could use the brakes to keep me from being shoved into the car ahead.

    I’ll add another that’s particularly useful at night. Don’t park so close in that your space is surrounded by other cars. You’re most vulnerable when you reach your car and have your keys out and the door unlocked. Have enough clear space around you to make a sudden surprise difficult. And, of course, look around as you approach your car.

    Parking further out also allows you, in most parking lots, to pull through one parking space into another, eliminating the need to back in. 

    I should add an additional one that I often forget. Make a point of remembering where you’re parked. Then you won’t wander around looking for it and will be able to leave quickly should the need arise. Particularly in rough neighborhoods, know where all the exits are, in case one is blocked.

    Here’s a news video from yesterday showing how important being prepared on a highway or at a store can be:

  • Tom McCaffrey

    Great article, and even greater context with superb realism.

  • saffron42

    Yes. 100% yes. The resident Mr Learner Driver is used to seeing me leave more than the normal/accepted distance between me and the car in front “So I have enough room to dodge around any of the other guy’s silly moves” [the line to parrot to the official driving instructor] and of course, leaving clear access to the side street is “One of the traffic rules”.
    Something I would add to the list: Don’t give in to Road Rage. You are at a tactical advantage if YOU are the one who is level-headed.

    Above all: Cars can be replaced, people cannot be. I would much prefer to pay a panel beater (or a car dealer) than pay an undertaker.

  • DB

    Don’t forget the engine is the heaviest part of the car, so if the need arises to push through a car blocking you, hit the rear of the vehicle where its lighter and will spin out of the way easier

  • Strych9

    When approaching a light check out the cars around you too. If you leave too much room between you and the car in front of you that idiot with a bunch of libbie political stickers driving a smart car may try to steal the “spot” in front of you. In fact people in larger cars might just stick part of their car in front of you and force their way into your lane.  

    Not to rag on people with a Hillary sticker or anything but I’ve noticed a direct correlation between the number of liberal stickers on a car and how much the driver thinks they, and only they, own the road.

  • Steve B

    Thumbs inside the steering ring are bad news – and are guaranteed to absolutely wreck the hands in a severe head on collision.

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