Bad news, all: Darren LaSorte is stuck in the boonies with a dead computer. That means you get me today. But knowing Darren as I do, I’ll attempt a “big-picture” column in his stead. The chips will fall where they may. All negative comments to him, if you please; positive, to me.
We’ve made multiple references over the years to Col. Jeff Cooper’s Color Codes of Awareness; if you aren’t familiar with this seminal distillation of what it takes to maneuver safely—not necessarily combatively—through the modern world, we again recommend them. They are prudently applied well beyond martial circumstances.
A quick review is helpful: Condition “white” is the first, and we’d disparagingly note how commonly but inappropriately we observe it outside the locked confines of home. Simply, it is functional inattention to any personal safety/security concerns; you’re bumbling from moment to moment hoping to encounter none of life’s inevitable hard, sharp edges. Um, good luck. It’s an ironic, even perverse commentary on how safe life actually is in these United States that so many live their whole lives long without “paying” for this ineptitude or inattention. A blessing of sorts, but its risks make us shudder.
“Yellow” is next, and we’d argue the lowest acceptable state for public navigation. Think of it in terms of 360-degree awareness of your surroundings. Not paranoia certainly, but as the fighter pilots would say, “check six” (behind you) now and again. Be alert for “DLRs”—Doesn’t Look Right.
“Orange” is the identification of something in those surroundings that is out of the ordinary. Increased attention is focused on the peculiarity, and a trigger action identified: If “X” occurs, “Y” step(s) will be taken. It includes deciding specifically what “Y” will be, and it’s okay to have a small number of options. Your 360-degree awareness does not cease, and egress is always to be preferred, though not if it makes actual defensive measures impossible.
“Red” is one that everybody gets: Flight options are no longer available. You must defend yourself. Keep in mind that time is the most precious commodity here, and it will be in notoriously short supply: Thinking you can successfully call for help is preposterous, bordering on movieland stupidity.
No serious intellectualizing is required to see how these states can and should apply to our conduct behind the wheel. Especially when you consider actual causes of injury and death. Ergo, what follows are some applications of situational awareness in the context of driving. Excepting the first, they’re in no particular order.If you are being followed, don’t surrender your mobile, lockable, metal skin (the one you’re sitting in, that is) without absolutely dire cause.
Be polite – Call us old-fashioned, but vehicle safety has progressed to the point that some people think virtually any accident will be survivable. It ain’t so: With a fatality count falling, so to speak, between poisoning and actual falling, nearly 33,000 Americans died in motor vehicle accidents in 2013, the most complete yearly stat currently available (another 2.3 million were injured).
How much of this comes from driving in Condition White is likely impossible to know, but observation alone would lead a reasoned observer to say “a lot!” Here’s the point: Being polite behind the wheel is simply another way to think of Condition Yellow. And just like walking-around Yellow, it can save a tremendous amount of trouble through avoidance.
The converse of this is getting wound up in notions like the “right of way.” It’s a theoretic, legalistic advantage only, and ceases to operate when two, three and four-ton hunks of metal hurtle into each other at 60 or 70 miles an hour.
That not enough context for you? Try this: At half that speed—a measly 30 mph—your bread and butter car/truck collision generates the energy of slightly more than 120 simultaneous .416 Rigby shots. Any surprise that survivability, unscathed, is poor?
So cultivate a politeness reflex: Assume other drivers need your indulgence. It is a marvelous way to dramatically reduce many kinds of risks, behind the wheel and elsewhere.
See the sights – No, not those sights. Don’t always use the same routes everywhere you go. As this is a key safety element for traveling dignitaries or other glitterati, so should it be for you. Especially if you have a specific concern, like a known (or suspected) antagonist, they should not be able to instantly predict your route/destination based on time of departure and path.
Not coincidentally, this is one of the shabbiest aspects of the Michael Bloomberg-style elitist cum gun grabber: He/they have the luxury of irregular schedules and destinations. In and of itself, this lack of predictability is a massive security advantage. To say nothing of their (own, or taxpayer-funded) security teams, but we digress.
Speaking of antagonists – Check those mirrors like it matters. Not only will it save you a potential road-rage blowout (which would arguably be your fault via simple deduction, by the way), but it’ll also tell you if you’ve picked up a weirdo. Simple rule of thumb: you get followed through a third turn—especially all lefts or rights—you need Condition Orange. Not, repeat not panic time, but heightened attention, certainly. There are many strategies here, but here’s the one absolutely not to do: go home (you don’t want to communicate your address if they don’t already know it). Best is to drive to a police station or to a parked police car—though don’t pull up behind one. Failing that, almost any officialdom will do.
Absolutely do not stop, nor confront, nor leave your vehicle without a known, rapidly accessible haven: If you are being followed, don’t surrender your mobile, lockable, metal skin (the one you’re sitting in, that is) without absolutely dire cause.
Enter and leave your vehicle with a purpose – We’re often astonished how people dawdle in and out of their vehicles. A quick look around makes clear why this is such a bad idea: close confines, obstructed sight lines, hard surfaces, protruding objects. If some louse has taken a fancy to your vehicle (or to you, ladies), this is a great opportunity for them to work their mischief: getting in, you’re distracted with keys, parcels, kids, etc.; getting out, you’ve conveniently exited the vehicle, keys readily in hand.
Perfect, from their rotten point of view.
The crucial thing here is to shorten their window of approach and opportunity. This is often harder when you are arriving than when leaving, as you may need to gather things from your vehicle. You fix this by not desperately hunting for that parking space that saves a few, or even a few dozen, steps. Park away from other vehicles where you can see what’s around you, and where any approach is therefore an automatic state-of-awareness elevator, i.e., a potential danger.
“Being polite behind the wheel is simply another way to think of Condition Yellow.”There’s a reciprocal benefit to this as you leave: again, you can see the terrain. This is especially important if you’re laden, and have no choice but to enter your vehicle slowly to load your groceries, kids, etc. Any approach is now a warning, and you have time to react and mitigate.
If you aren’t burdened, approach your vehicle, get in, and drive away. If you want to check your email or texts, drive a couple hundred yards (at least), and then pull over. Don’t linger, head down, in a location where observation and approach can be precisely planned and timed, and all without you knowing it.
Park nose out – This is my Pop’s old rule. Never back up, given a choice. This is not just good/careful driving practice because forward visibility is always better, but because it’s more expeditious, with all the benefits discussed above. Nor is it merely making useful haste, it’s about slicing the slowest, most complicated step out of your egress: backing up.
Leave space for maneuver in front of you – Always, always, always. By this, we mean don’t close up within two inches—or even two feet—of the vehicle in front of you, especially at a traffic light. Rather, leave enough room to maneuver around what’s in front of you. (Rule of thumb: half a car-length.) Keep in mind, this means some rude goober will occasionally nose in front of you. This is the time to invoke our first suggestion, namely, be polite. Smile. Wave. At least you won’t start a fistfight.
There’s a corollary here. We also can’t suggest being in an interior lane of traffic while stopped. If you are, and even if you leave sufficient front clearance, you may still be effectively blocked on the left and right by other lanes of traffic. Still, that crucial front clearance may prove valuable if other traffic lanes move before yours, even though you’re now the aforementioned rude goober, nosing in. Back to the “polite” rule: smile, wave, mouth “thank you.”
Work this in reverse, too, at least in terms of your thinking. Any vehicle that approaches or follows too closely should be treated as a threat. Especially if they refuse opportunities to move around you (lots of ways to encourage this), it’s time to seek officialdom as we suggested earlier.
Lock your doors – Again, always, always, always. If we have to explain this, well, go read that “Carry Life” guy. Oh, wait …
There’s an analog here: driving around with your windows rolled down. Not saying don’t do it; am saying “be extra alert.” It’s a security compromise, and absolutely demands better situational awareness no matter how beautiful the day.
If you’ve gotten this far, and are wondering, “where’s the gun stuff?” we suggest a rethink: not all gun stuff is about guns, but all situational awareness is about personal security, armed or not.
It’s a set of habits to form and stimulate every chance you get, and it has rewards well beyond personal or family well-being.Back to you, D.