The In's & Out's of Maintaining Situational Awareness in a Vehicle - ITS Tactical

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The In’s & Out’s of Maintaining Situational Awareness in a Vehicle

By Jeff Gonzales

ITS Visor Marker Panel

A large majority of us spend a lot of time in our vehicles. I recently spent a lot more time than I wanted to sitting in Los Angeles traffic attending this year’s Crossfit Games and it got me thinking about this article.

Road Rage

The funny thing about traffic is that folks are always trying to gain an inch by changing lanes and crawling up your rear. I’m not used to that type of behavior, nor would I expect to be on a daily basis. But, I did start thinking of how I’d deal with things from a tactical point of view in that situation and how best to defend myself from an attack while sitting in a parked vehicle, exiting/entering a parked vehicle and upon provocation.

Driving Tips

The first thing I tell people when it comes to driving is to leave early. I know it sucks, but it truly puts you in a different mindset. If you plan to leave a little bit early, you’ll find yourself making better decisions when it comes to driving. You won’t feel “rushed” to try and make that red light, change lanes without checking your blind spot, or merging into traffic recklessly because you’re in a hurry. How much earlier will depend on you, but 10 minutes seems to be the sweet spot. It truly is the best thing you can do to “arrive alive.”

Keep Your Head on a Swivel

I’ve said it before, but when it comes to driving, you really do need a high level of situational awareness. Things are coming at you fast, literally; you don’t have much time to process things. Keep these simple concepts in mind the next time you’re behind the wheel:

  • Never stop driving the vehicle.
  • Look for drivable terrain.
  • Look where you want the vehicle to go.

With all that being said, let’s talk about what you might want to consider for vehicle defense.

Know Your Vehicle

The first thing, which should go without saying, is to lock your doors the moment you get into your vehicle. Try to make that as much of habit as putting on your seatbelt. Speaking of seat belts, before you buckle up, look around you and make sure it’s safe to do so. You’re somewhat vulnerable in a parked vehicle and dismounting should be an option, but it’s difficult to do when you’re buckled up for safety. Also, be mindful of automatic vehicle locks that unlock the doors when you put the vehicle in park. I’m not a fan of these at all, simply because it could compromise the “seal” of your vehicle. Most of these can be disabled and if you don’t know how, take it to the dealership and ask them to do it for you.

Improvised Weapons

Vehicle Improvised Weapons?

You should keep improvised weapons at the ready for those close quarters fights when you can’t or don’t have time to get to your firearm. Remember, your firearm will be difficult to access in a seated position and especially when you’re buckled up. For more on concealment options, check out this blog post. These improvised weapons can vary and I’m sure if you use your imagination you can come up with plenty of ideas. They shouldn’t be your final choice but think of them as a transition to a better weapon system. Also, think of being able to employ them from confined spaces such as the interior of your vehicle.

Think Twice Before you Bail

Lastly is the decision to dismount your vehicle. We’ve all seen some examples of road rage that ended bad for the good guy. If the vehicle followed you for several miles, or even blocks, I highly suggest you stop at a police station or other public location. If your vehicle is mobile, it’s your best defense and weapon. If you’re in fear for your life, do what you have to do to get off the “X”. If you decide to exit the vehicle, at least have a plan. That plan should include not discussing the issue in traffic. Take it to the side of the road. Always think of an escape and make sure to lock the doors before you dismount the vehicle. If you do dismount, consider that you might not be able to get back to it and to make sure you have your “stuff” with you. At the very least, have a cell phone to call for help if you have to high tail it out there.

These are just some simple ideas to think about when you spend time in or around a vehicle. When in doubt, don’t stop; keep the vehicle moving.

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Jeff Gonzales was a decorated and respected US Navy SEAL, serving as an operator and trainer who participated in numerous combat operations throughout the world. He now uses his modern warfare expertise as President of Trident Concepts, LLC., a battle proven company specializing in weapons, tactics and techniques to meet the evolving threat. Bringing the same high-intensity mindset, operational success and lessons learned from NSW to their training programs, TRICON has been recognized as an industry leader by various federal, state and local units. Organizations interested in training with TRICON can call 928-925-7038 or visit for more information.

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  • Yes, be ready for trouble, but it matters far more to understand how to diffuse a tense, road-rage situation. 
    Stay calm if you want to calm them down. 
    Refuse to be drawn into an argument. What does it prove if you out-argue an idiot?
    Offer alternatives.
    Deflect angry words with softly spoken ones. Keep the focus on what they need to do.
    Recognize (or at least pretend) that their feeling are justified.
    If possible, get others to stand by to help.
    If the situation can’t be settled by simply parting ways, calmly tell them that you’re calling 911, so the police can settle this.

    • gw812

      Good advice. Remember, whiskey to repair your pride costs less than doctors to repair your body!

  • #2

    A few years ago, I had to deal with a guy throwing knives at a tree next to a busy public walk at Seattle Green Lake. I pointed out the danger to him and suggested he pick a tree away from people. He became angry and tried to provoke an argument. I refused and told him I was calling 911.

    And yes, things did get a bit dicey when this guy, who outweighed me by about 40 pounds and had at least five throwing knives, began to move toward me. As I backed away, he was intercepted by a much larger guy, who’d seen what I was doing and decided to intervene.

    It was rush hour, so I knew Seattle cops wouldn’t come quickly. But I hung around, keeping my distance, but making clear that, when the cops arrived, I’d point him out. After about 20 minutes, he left and I never saw him at that park again. After another few minutes, I called 911 and canceled my call.

    It helped that I’d had some experience working with drug addicts and the homeless in Seattle and Anchorage. Talking with these guys isn’t that unusual for me. I learned to live with weirdness.

  • #3
    Watch Youtube videos of police confrontations and you’ll see that cops have a lot to learn in this area, particularly with the drug-addled and mentally ill. They point their gun and start screaming orders like a Marine drill sergeant on steroids. That’s enough to make ordinary people act freak out. It’s disastrous for those whose head is already addled. 
    When working with street people, it helps to take the time to get to know them and also to know who it is they trust. In the Seattle neighborhood where I used to live, there were a couple of homeless guys who were as nutty as fruit cakes, but they didn’t cause any trouble because their fellow sleep-in-the-bushes guys knew how to manage them. Cops should know who they can get when someone gets out of control, either another street guy, a relative, or a worker at a homeless shelter. Blasting them with Glocks is not only vile, it ties a police department in knots for months. Heck, you might offer to treat them to a meal. Some of these guys haven’t had a good meal in days. Imagine how you’d feel in their situation.
    A lot of cops need to spend more time out of their cars walking the streets and less time glaring out from behind tinted windows. They’d learn better how to project strength and confidence without provoking fear and intimidation, a move that often provokes young males.

    Michael W. Perry, co-author of Lily’s Ride: Rescuing her Father from the Ku Klux Klan (the ultimate road-rage tale, one involving over 100 armed Klansmen on horseback in 1870s NC)

  • vinceoliver

    do you have any ideas on how this would have been handled better?
    the policeman was with his family, just got out of their garage, I think.
    thanks in advance

    warning: graphic video

    • Grindstone50k

      vinceoliver Looks like SA would come in play. Granted, the area is a dense population center, but the attacker was waiting right at the end of the drive way. You should be aware of pedestrians anyway, but one loitering right at your drive way should be tripping flares as it is.

  • CAIN7

    I was thinking about vehicle safety after seeing ISIS gunning down innocent people while driving in traffic.

  • Allwet

    Just a few additional thoughts:
    1. Know your route.GPS is fine for verification, will make you blind in a jam.Get real, have a paper map…which never loses signals.Choke points and major interchanges, “mix masters”, blind exits etc, can all be id’d 90% of the time on a map prior to
    departure.Its not rocket science, but for some reason, everyone wants to rely a device, instead of themselves.Thats a thread in itself LOL. Refer to #6.

    2. Use your passengers. Sound silly?Think again, if you are really driving(ie ; engaged in manuevering through traffic, not skylarking etc)in an unfamiliar environment, your “co pilot” can keep a separate eye for signs and upcoming landmarks , use track follow mode and confirm location on GPS. Other duties will be obvious here as well….use all the heads you have.
    3. Maintain an awareness threshold-Good old what I call “If, then,go to” (….If x happens, or x enters proximity, plan b, if scenario progresses, action c) This can be as simple as maintaining fight or flight space at intersections etc(leave room to manuever, or no room for someone else. Got some a-holes riding ass tight? Allow no room for momentum to develop, which may be contrary to instinct, but if you are rammed from behind and effectively pinned down between vehicles , you are f’d.If they have no room, this can’t happen. Allow room in front of you, momentum is your friend if you need to egress out of a tight situation as a last resort.
    4. Road ragers.Everyone thinks they are a badass when they are in their vehicle and you in yours.Best to live an fight another day, that midget in the f-4000 w/daddy bought 37″ tires on your ass, might just be that.Or it could a stolen vehicle and…..need I elaborate.Evaluate very carefully any aggressive responses you may feel like engaging in.
    5. Drive a bit faster then the flow of traffic, otherwise you have be much more vigilant of your blind spots and your “6”(roll eyes).
    6. Maintain your vehicle, maintain a half or tank of fuel or more, carry basic tools, and items relevant to the areas you will drive
    7. This one is no issue for me, it is however not always possible to carry in many situations.In your own vehicle….not much of an issue.If you’ve just hopped off a plane , and aren’t being met officially or “un”, you most likely will not have that weapon of choice option.99% of you won’t be getting escorted or provided firearms when travelling. Laugh if you like, I have an affinity for at least grabbing a can of wasp and hornet spray like Spectracide, it’ll spray 20′ and blind on contact.Cheap insurance, and you can get it anywhere.

    There’s oh so much more, but the important part here is to activate your first line of defense….your mind.
    Have a good one and drive safe-

  • John unknown


    The car in the first pic, could you please tell a little bit more about it?

  • RichardGarrett1

    If it comes down to a kill or be killed situation and you’re still strapped in, just remember shooting through your own windshield is faster than unbuckling, bailing and taking a shooting stance.

  • saffron42

    Some good ideas here.  I am teaching my teenage son to drive < ulp ! > and I make a point of showing him how I ignore the horn-honking one-finger-saluters behind me who are annoyed that I have left ‘too much room’ between me and the guy in front. 
    I also have a windscreen beaker which doubles as a seat belt cutter (and a weapon of course – one which I can openly carry in the car with no permits or LEO hassles!)

    Some of the other things I am adding to the official curriculum?
    1/ how to handle a skid and what to do if you can’t (eg you may have to swerve out of the way of the local rent-a-riot and end up losing control)
    2/ how to spot an obvious tail (and how to ditch it) – the not-so-obvious ones, we will probably never know about
    3/ if ramming is the safest/only option, then ram in reverse and the car will still be driveable
    4/ don’t swerve to avoid a small animal
    5/ protect your head in a crash (cross arms over face, wrists facing in) and don’t get trapped by the steering column (keep your legs one each side of the steering column) and you are more likely to get out

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