Women Drivers: How Do We Protect Ourselves?

They say that driving around Metro Manila is the ultimate test of one’s mettle, patience, and driving skills – what with unbearable traffic, appalling state of roads, unruly pedestrians, reckless drivers, and cunning traffic enforcers ready to pick your pocket.

But no matter how skilful a driver you are and no matter how high your tolerance level is, if you’re a woman behind the wheel, the risks are far greater for you in terms of your safety and security, especially when you’re driving alone.

Heinous Crimes

In June 2011, the twin deaths of Cheryl Sarmiento and Teresa Teano hugged the headlines. Sarmiento was traversing Regalado Street near Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City when several armed men alighted from a van and shot her. Barely 24 hours after Sarmiento’s death, Teano was shot and run over by two men who took her car in Kamuning, also in Quezon City.

A month ago, the body of 25-year-old advertising executive Kae Davantes was found under a bridge in Silang, Cavite. Two of the suspects arrested for her murder confessed they abducted her after she got out of her car to open the gate of her house in Moonwalk Village, Las Piñas City, in the wee hours of September 7. She was strangled and stabbed to death.

Simple Lapse of Caution

As public outrage grows against the heinous death of Davantes and the ones before her, the question of how safe it is for women to drive around the streets in the Metro arises anew.

Vulnerable as we are, car crashes and accidents are not the only risk we, women, face when we take the wheel. At any given moment, we can easily fall prey to carjacking, abduction, robbery, and rape.

Most of these crimes happen when we let our guard down. When we walk to the parking lot alone, without a care in the world; when we let our emotions get the better of and us and rush to help a stranded stranger by the road, when we innocently open our windows to hand alms to beggars, or when we get distracted by mundane things as we drive, like putting on makeup, or texting, or calling.

Little things that compromise our situational awareness and heighten our vulnerability – the very things that predators are on the lookout for.

Security Tips for Female Drivers

It pays to heed security advice from the experts. Knowing what to do in the event you’re confronted with trouble could spell the difference between life and death.

Security consultancy expert Ace Esmeralda of risk management firm AceAndAssociates (AAA), Inc. shared these helpful tips:

1) When traveling alone, make sure you have your mobile phone with you at all times. Have a number in speed dial that you can call for security matters. This could be your parents, siblings, officemates, or security office.

2) Make it a habit to inform your friends or family of your destination, your ETA (expected time of arrival), and the route you are taking. This way, they will know when something is amiss.

3) Develop situational awareness before getting into and off your vehicle, and before getting in and out of your garage. Before pulling over, scan your vicinity and be on a lookout for new or suspicious persons loitering near your parking area or garage.

4) When parking or leaving your car, ensure all valuables are out of plain sight even if you are heavily tinted. Cash, mobile devices, and laptops are temptations even to non-professional thieves.

5) Never leave your keys in the ignition and never leave your vehicle unlocked even for a quick moment, especially in an unfamiliar place.

6) When parking in a car park, choose a well-lit slot that has a good volume of foot and vehicular traffic and is monitored by CCTV camera or an attendant.

7) Avoid road rage of another driver, drive courteously and defensively.

8) While driving, ensure the vehicle is locked. Some of the newer vehicles lock automatically when you drive off. Better if you make it a habit to lock the doors immediately even before starting the engines.

9) When another car bumps into yours and get you to pull over for verification or negotiation, do not get out of your vehicle immediately. Call first for a witness nearby or use your mobile phone to inform a friend or family member of the incident. Give your location and other circumstances immediately.

10) Assess the situation first before responding to another motorist who is seeking assistance. If doubtful about the motorist and circumstance, get away from the scene and call a security number.

11) Don’t assume any unmarked vehicle with a flashing light as a police car. If the car attempting to pull you over doesn’t look like a police or traffic vehicle, keep driving and look for well lit or populated area like malls, hotels, gas stations. Do not get out of your car, lower the window a bit and request the police officer’s identification.

12) Modulate the volume of music in your headset or stereo. Make sure you can still hear the unusual noises or sound of your surroundings while driving.

13) Think twice about picking up hitchhikers or acquaintances along your way. If the person seems suspicious to you, do not stop and continue driving.

14) In the event you get a flat tire, try to get your vehicle to a well-lit area if possible without causing damage to your vehicle.

15) Dress modestly in order not to attract unwanted attention from suspicious men or preying gangs

16) Make sure you have these items within reach when traveling: mobile phone, car charger, car safety kit, strong pepper spray, powerful flashlight, and whistle.

We live a world where criminals are lurking everywhere, waiting for the most opportune time to strike. A single second you spend momentarily distracted is all they need to make a victim out of you. The risks we, women, face when we’re driving alone are alarming. It may be cliché, but it always, always pays to be on our toes at all times and take heed of precautions that can protect us from potential harm.