MINIMIZE THE DANGERS OF GETTING FROM POINT A TO POINT B.
There’s no doubt that in the United States, passenger cars and light trucks are the most dangerous modes of transportation a person could use to move from one place to another. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, over 61 percent of 2019’s transportation fatalities resulted from riding in cars, pickups, vans and other similarly sized vehicles.
Luckily for most people, the option to use other modes of transportation is readily available in cities, suburbs and some rural areas of the country. However, just because someone lowers their statistical chance of being injured or killed by avoiding using a car doesn’t mean they should be worry-free about their alternative choice of transportation.
From subways to buses to “chauffeured” services such as taxis and other options (Uber and Lyft, for instance), these varied modes of travel present their own dangers to you. In addition, it’s not only the idea that you might be injured in an accident, secondary dangers also exist.
You need to address staying safe while waiting for your ride, taking precautions against “odd” or phony drivers, or just being cautious of unforeseen hazards during the hustle and bustle of busy transportation hubs. The fact is that even though car deaths and injuries are the greatest threat, your ‘’radar’’ should always be on, and your common sense and natural instincts must be tuned into your surroundings to ensure you’ll make it home to your loved ones.
A PLETHORA OF CHOICES
As mentioned above, transportation options are more numerous in the city, and because most people live in either a city or the surrounding suburbs, the odds are good they’d employ one or more transportation choices other than their own car or truck. These could include local buses, subways and elevated trains, as well as longer-distance options that travel out of state, and intercity and regional trains. Some cities employ cable cars and trolleys to move commuters, while smaller towns offer large van and shuttle services. Finally, all types of car-ride services are now available, such as cabs, limousines and independent contractor drivers for those needing one-time transportation.
There are about a dozen viable options to choose from, and they can be divided into a few main categories—buses, trains, cars and small aircraft, to some extent. Helicopters and planes, although not everyday travel for the vast majority of commuters, are included, because where you sit on the craft can aid in your survival if a crash occurs. You also need to incorporate safety protocols at the airport or field and when securing a ride to the method of transportation.
OPTIMAL SAFE CONDITIONS
It should go without saying that traveling during daylight hours and “going with the flow” of fellow commuters is the safest time to travel throughout your day. Night travel invites predators to prey upon solo riders and those lost or confused about their surroundings. The darkness can be detrimental if an accident occurs and a person is trying to get their bearings or call for help.
Conversely, overcrowded daytime travel is not optimal for the individual either. Accidents occurring on subways, trains, large buses or in their associated congested stations can incite mass panic, causing stampedes, people being forced against the doors and crushed, knocked down and trampled by others. Crowded stations also attract pickpockets and thieves, who watch a target’s every movement and strike at the precise time to steal their wallet, handbag or even luggage, even if it’s left unattended for only a few seconds.
Not everyone can pick and choose their preferred travel time, but by finding the best times and formulating a schedule as near to those times as possible, you can reduce risk and have a better chance of avoiding safety and security problems.
CARRYING … JUST IN CASE
Traveling in large, loud crowds, sketchy environments, riding alone with an unknown driver and traveling at all hours of the night can lead to dangerous situations for the commuter. But the fact is that appropriate precautions need to be taken during any travel to protect yourself from both predators and potential dangers presented by hazardous conditions found all around you.
There are numerous opportunities for “bad actors” to approach you and threaten your physical well-being if you don’t give up your money, jewelry or other valuables; essentially, you get mugged. Your money is replaceable and not worth your life, of course. However, that’s only one such crime that could occur—and the others only get worse from there.
The possibilities of physical attacks for a wide variety of reasons, such as sadistic fun, rape, kidnapping and murder, can justify the decision to carry one or more self-defense and safety items. The frequency, environmental safety record and many other factors, not to mention local laws and your capabilities with the tools, will help you determine what’s appropriate for the given situation. In addition, cabs and ride shares put you under the control of the driver; if you’re unfamiliar with the area, that could go very wrong for you.
There are many items you could carry that don’t physically harm a person but are intended to disorient or scare them or, at the very least, attract attention toward them. Remember: When someone is committing a crime of any nature, they don’t like to be in the spotlight. If you put them in it, you have a very good chance of surviving the ordeal.
A portable, hand-held alarm with a high-decibel sound can essentially “wake up” the night, along with just about anyone around you when it’s activated. These devices are usually palm sized and operate on simple batteries with either a pull string or “panic” button for activation. If a threatening situation occurs, you need only switch it on, hopefully scaring the assailant and sending him running. The unit can also be stored within a purse or bag with the cord wrapped around your wrist. If the crime is theft—or, more specifically, purse-snatching—once the bag is seized by the robber, they’ll essentially activate the alarm and have it sounding within their stolen prize. This might be enough to get them to drop it and run, and you can then retrieve your valuables and other goods.
A tactical flashlight is another option. However, this tool doesn’t alert others to your danger; it distracts your assailant or, at the very least, allows you to shine some light on their identity. This, alone, might be enough to deter them from proceeding with their intended crime. Some tactical lights are designed to be effective impact weapons, but this type of use could be legally problematic in some jurisdictions.
When discussing self-defense items you could carry, it should be noted that no matter which item you choose, proper training with that weapon prior to carrying is an absolute must. Too many times, people believe they’re good to go as soon as they purchase the item. However, they find out—sometimes with horrible consequences—that learning how to use the device is more important than having it.
Knives and batons are easily concealed, and both make excellent defensive weapons. Most batons offer greater reach than most knives and can keep an attacker at bay, whereas a knife, if it makes a decisive cut, can force the assailant to stop their attack quickly and flee. Both have their advantages. Nevertheless, remember that both can be taken away from you and used against you. Hence, the necessity of pre-carry training—not to mention checking their legality in the areas in which you intend to travel.
A firearm is the top tier defensive weapon. However, it also carries the most impact in the forms of physical harm, mental and emotional aftermath for the user, as well as possible legal issues if there’s a question of whether your use of a firearm was legal or justified. The decision to carry a handgun is a complex one, so it’s advisable to do your homework first, make an informed decision, and then practice so you know your weapon’s—and your own—capabilities.
As much time as it takes to travel to a destination, there’s an associated amount of time spent waiting for the intended vehicle to finally depart. In addition, accidents, breakdowns, weather and other schedule delays can lengthen the amount of time you have to stand by.
For app-assisted services, it’s wise to use that time to review the information available about your incoming ride. The car’s make, model and color are usually listed so you know the exact vehicle you’ll be driving in. In addition, the driver’s characteristics should also be on the phone app so you know who your driver will be. If all the data matches, it’s a good sign, but if the car is different or the driver seems “off” when compared to the picture or name, your inner voice should alert you that something might be wrong. Regardless of how reality matches the app’s information, many people send a photo of the license plate and rear of the vehicle to a trusted friend, who can help authorities track you down if necessary.
If you confront the driver about the inconsistencies and their explanation makes sense, still use caution when deciding if you will or won’t take that ride. It’s better to wait another half hour for someone you trust than to become the subject of a news report the next day. Don’t feel badly for the driver, and don’t second-guess yourself. Your life could be on the line, so err on the side of caution.
Waiting for a train or bus can leave you susceptible to stalkers of all types. Whether their intent is to rob or harass you or kidnap or sexually attack you, remember: There’s safety in numbers. Stay within the station, where it’s well-lit, and stay near other people who don’t appear to be threats. It might not be comfortable, and it might counter your eagerness to get aboard and home, but you might not get home at all if you’re assaulted or robbed.
Various self-defense weapons, such as these four examples, can be carried discreetly and used in case trouble comes your way.
‘SAFE SPOTS’ IN VARIOUS VEHICLES
Your choice of location while riding in various public transportation vehicles can make a difference to whether you survive an accident. There are no guarantees but, if you follow the odds, there are safer seats within your chosen vehicle; and, if you know them, your odds of surviving a crash increase greatly.
Trains. It’s best to find a seat in one of the middle cars. Because most crashes occur either in the front or back of the train, the middle cars will generally suffer the least impact. Furthermore, an aisle seat inside that car distances you a bit from glass and other debris. For even more safety, find a back-facing seat with a headrest so a front-end crash will drive your body into the seat back, as opposed to projecting you out of the seat, as in the case of a forward-facing seat. Subway travel mimics normal train travel, so the same precautions should be followed.
Buses. Buses follow this same idea of internal seating choice. A mid-vehicle seat location, coupled with an aisle seat, offers the best protection on large interstate buses, as well as local and intercity buses.
Cars. When you take an Uber or Lyft service, or vans (such as airport shuttle services), the safest location has mixed options in recent years. In the past, the back middle seat was the safest in the vehicle. However, due to technological advances in safety for the front seats—especially with the addition of numerous airbags now installed in newer cars—some experts lean toward the front seat as the safest place.
No matter which you choose, always wear your seat belt, and don’t be afraid to tell your driver to slow down or take precautions if driving in inclement weather or when there’s construction on the road.
Planes. Planes, at least larger commercial versions, have their safest seats located in the rear of the plane, with the aisle seats (middle of the fuselage) being the safest (lowest percentage of death or injuries) locations.
Traveling, whether across town or across your state, is inevitable for most people due to work or personal situations. The key to surviving your trek is to be a smart traveler. Do your homework and research the best seats, the best times and the modes to make your journey as safe and pleasurable as possible.
Although there are no guarantees in life, a bit of pre-planning can decrease your chances of injuries from unforeseen accidents, dangerous predators and other vehicular risks.
Numbers Don’t Lie: Vehicle Safety
Commercial aircraft. With planes topping out the list as one of the safest modes of travel for commuters, 2019 numbers illustrate this fact, with only 452 fatalities within the United States.
Trains. With approximately double the number for planes, passenger trains came in at 899 fatalities during the same one-year period.
Buses and trucks. Among buses and trucks that weigh more than 10,000 pounds (gross vehicle weight), the 2019 number is 892.
Cars. Perhaps giving up your car might be in order: Nearly 22,215 passengers died in cars, vans, pickups and similar vehicles in 2019.
Walking. Although one would think walking would be the safest mode of travel, 6,205 deaths occurred in 2019 while people were walking.
The ‘Chameleon’ Effect
While waiting at a station or on the sidewalk at a bus stop, there are ways for you to blend into your environment and avoid attracting the interest of predators.
TONE DOWN THE BLING
There’s nothing wrong with showing your nice things, but there’s a time and place for it—and it’s not while waiting for a ride. Fancy watches, rings and necklaces shout out to others, “Come and get some of this!” Take your valuables off, and you’ll enjoy a hassle-free wait.
DRESS TO DEPRESS
Like jewelry, fancy clothing attracts attention. Whether it could lead to sexual advances or suggests to others that you have money, it’s something you shouldn’t have to deal with during your commute. Instead, wear a long coat or jacket that keeps your fancy togs under wraps. Drab colors and plain styles also help decrease attraction from strangers.
AVOID THE JITTERS
Nervousness or distraction telegraphs to others that you’re out of your element or multitasking when you shouldn’t be; thus, it makes you a target to those around you. Whether you’re eager to get home after a long, stressful day or have a lot on your mind, being distracted can lead to you being robbed or jumped when you least expect it.
Confidence can go a long way toward dissuading a predator from making you their target. Even if it’s only bravado, always walk with your head high, your eyes scanning in front of you and your walk exuding firmness and certainty with each step. Bullies target the weak. Stay strong and get passed by.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the April, 2021 print issue of American Survival Guide.