Three Crucial Safety Tips for Women Who Drive Alone

by Josh Sadlier
Woman driving

For most women, most of the time, driving alone is perfectly safe. So safe, that this topic may elicit some eye rolls from our female readers. Still, we hear of sobering exceptions to this rule every year, reminding us that solitary female drivers continue to be targeted by unsavory characters. To wit, as this article went to press, authorities in Los Angeles were searching for a male tow truck driver who was dispatched to help a Pierce College student with a dead battery, found her stranded in an empty parking lot, and allegedly committed sexual assault. It may sound like a newsflash from the other side of the world, but it happened right here at home, underscoring the importance of being cautious and prepared whenever you're out on the road.  
Of course, that's good advice for male drivers, too. As invulnerable as everyone may feel behind the wheel, the reality is that we're all just an accident or breakdown away from being at the mercy of those who respond, especially when driving alone. But men frankly aren't objectified in the same way. According to the Center for Disease Control, women are more than twice as likely as men to experience some kind of sexual coercion during their lives, and they're about 13 times more likely to experience rape. We don't mean to diminish the suffering of male victims, but the imbalance here is too stark to ignore. 
If you're a woman who drives alone, particularly on a regular basis, it's imperative that you consider these three strategies for keeping yourself safe.

Don't Let Vehicle Maintenance Slide

Roadside breakdowns may seem like the stuff of yesteryear, but they happen all the time – and they're usually preventable by prudent maintenance. Here's the threefold approach we recommend.
Keep the Battery in Shape
Remember that a dead battery was what left the Pierce College student stranded in that parking lot. Are there steps you can take to minimize that risk? Absolutely. Here's an easy rule of thumb: if you don't frequently drive your car long distances, you should take it out once a week for a nice long trip. Aim for 50 miles or more. The longer you travel at sustained cruising speeds, the more your battery's reserves will be replenished. 
Don't Sleep on Your Tires
Drivers too often overlook the importance of where the rubber meets the road. Hey, if there's a cliché about it, it's probably a pretty big deal. The less tread you've got left, the more susceptible you are to flat tires and blowouts, so the best policy is to check tire tread frequently and have a new set installed right when the old ones wear out. If that seems like too much of a financial burden, you can consider waiting for a bit as long as there aren't any cracks in the sidewalls. But we emphasize how little time you've got left at that point -- and once you see cracks, consider yourself lucky that you haven't had a blowout already. Being proactive will cost you something, but the payoff could be huge.
Don't Just Change the Oil
Oil changes are rightly considered vital to a car's longevity, but you shouldn't leave it at that. Every time you take your car into a garage, there's a perfect opportunity to get a professional opinion on all of your vehicle systems. That's why we recommend having a reputable mechanic give your car a once-over at every oil-change interval. We're talking about experienced mechanics here, with consistently top-notch feedback. Check online review aggregators to get a feel for whose customers are the most satisfied.

Stay on Course with GPS Technology

A couple decades ago, getting lost on unfamiliar roads was still a fact of life. But these days, there's just no excuse. You've got a smartphone, right? They come equipped with great map apps that will show you your location and guide you home. To take it a step further, you can even install a tracking app so that friends and family can follow your whereabouts – a helpful safety feature when you know you’re going to be driving late at night. 
If you aren’t a member of the smartphone nation, you probably have an old flip phone or something. Maybe your vehicle even has a built-in navigation system, or live operator assistance à la GM's OnStar telematics. Point being, you’re probably going to have something at your fingertips that's GPS-enabled and data-connected, and that means you're always just a few keystrokes from getting back on track. When in doubt, let modern technology be your guide.

Prepare to Defend Yourself

If you do get lost and/or stranded, the first line of defense may also be the best: your car's door locks. Unless you absolutely have to exit your vehicle – if you've been in a severe collision, for example – consider staying put with the doors locked until emergency responders arrive. People who stop to help may seem like upstanding citizens, but if there's any question in your mind (and maybe even if there isn't), don't feel bad about politely conveying that you prefer to wait for the officials.   
Okay, but what if those officials may not be coming to the scene? Suppose you merely require roadside assistance with a mechanical issue, like the Pierce College student we've been discussing. That means you may well end up dealing with private contractors like tow-truck drivers rather than public servants like police officers or EMTs. Of course, you can try to stay locked inside, but realistically, that's going to be hard to pull off if the vehicle needs mechanical attention. 
Here are two specific suggestions for making yourself less vulnerable.
First, remember that your phone is your friend – you can get a hold of vital information just by asking the right questions. For instance, when you're told that a tow truck has been dispatched, make sure you ask for clear vehicle and driver identification so you can verify for yourself. If something doesn't add up when the truck arrives, stay locked in your car and call the dispatcher back. Don't worry about offending the potentially friendly driver; under the circumstances, your wariness is totally understandable, so make sure you've got assurances that everything's on the up and up before you exit the car. That goes for any kind of roadside encounter, including when you're pulled over by a vaguely suspicious unmarked police car and want to double-check that it's legit. There's always a dispatcher or operator you can call and talk to if you have any doubts.

Second, it may sound unnecessary, but make sure you've stashed a good old-fashioned can of Mace or equivalent pepper-type spray in your car. This gives you a plan of action if the worst happens and you’re attacked; a squirt of pepper spray can more than level the playing field against an intimidating foe. Just make sure you practice a few times in a well-ventilated outdoors setting; in the event that you need to use it, you don't want it to be your first time.
But hopefully it will never come to that – and if you follow all of our tips, hopefully it won't even come close to that. Unfortunately, there are real safety concerns for women who drive alone, but smart precautions can reduce the risk considerably and give you some extra peace of mind.

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