Many South Africans go to extraordinary lengths to ensure their personal safety in their homes. This includes alarm systems, high-voltage fences, armed response, and guard dogs. But, says the Automobile Association (AA), personal safety in the car is often neglected, placing motorists and their passengers in danger.
“Whether you are going on a short trip or a long journey, it’s always a good idea to ensure you are equipped to deal with any emergency you may encounter. It’s also important to always keep calm, assess the situation and remember that you are always more valuable than your vehicle,” the AA said.
The AA advises it is a good idea to tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to arrive. In this way, if you are long overdue, questions will be asked. Make sure you have enough fuel to get you to your destination, or to the nearest fuel station, so you don’t end up stranded on the side of the road. Don’t play fuel gauge roulette, you can only lose.
“Keeping your car in good condition may not sound like a safety precaution, but it is. A car which is in good working order, including the tyres and brakes, is less likely to break down and leave its occupants stranded. If you break down, pull off to the shoulder as quickly as possible and immediately inform someone of your situation,” said the AA.
Some other tips from the AA include:
- If possible, avoid driving in dimly lit areas or areas you are unfamiliar with
- Ensure your mobile phone is charged in case you need it during an emergency
- Pack any valuables, including laptops and handbags, in the boot of the car. Do not leave these on the passenger or back seats where they are easily visible, and can be easily reached through open windows or in smash-and-grab incidents
- Be aware of your surroundings, and note any suspicious people or cars at home or at work. If you do see anything out of the ordinary, call for help before you get out of your vehicle
- If you have an electric gate, check around before opening it and, if possible, ensure it is well lit for when you arrive in the dark. If possible, fix light sensors that activate in low light
- Keep shrubs and bushes trimmed around your driveway to deny anyone the opportunity to hide in wait. This also makes exiting the driveway safer by offering greater road visibility
- If you are concerned that you are being followed, circle the block before going home and, if the car is still behind you, drive to the nearest police station
- Keep a sensible distance between yourself and the car in front of you when stopping, to leave enough room to get your car out quickly, should the need arise
- If you have been the victim of a smash-and-grab incident, don’t get out of your vehicle and chase after the suspect immediately; this will leave you exposed and vulnerable to other thieves
- Download the AA Rescue App which will send your location directly to the AA call centre and a nominated friend or family member should you activate it
- AA Members can subscribe to the AA Stand-By-You service where an armed security guard will be dispatched to your location to wait with you while assistance is on its way. This service is available 24/7, 365 days a year
“Being aware of what is happening around you is especially important because people can become victims of hijackings while entering or leaving their homes. It is always a good idea to scout the area in front of your home before going in to avoid a nasty surprise once your gate has opened,” the AA suggested.
The AA’s tips on dealing with hijackings include:
- Do not resist any hijackers, your life is more important than your car
- Keep your hands visible at all times and speak in as calm a voice as you can muster
- Listen carefully to any instructions and follow them promptly
- Tell the truth if you are asked any questions. If the hijackers catch you lying, it may worsen the situation for you
- If you have a child in the car, speak calmly and ask if you can get the child out before they leave. Explain that the child poses no threat to them
“Ensuring your personal safety while on the road doesn’t end with you putting on your seatbelt or ensuring your car is in a good working condition; there are other factors you should consider, and prepare for, that will make your motoring experience even safer.”