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Surviving Vehicle Ambushes

Being prepared and knowing what to do before you take fire in your car can save your life.

October 17, 2011  |  by Ed Lovette

Room to Move

As discussed earlier, an ambush is characterized by suddenness, surprise, and lack of provocation. That means it has much in common with other types of attacks on officers and even hostile contacts and situations you face on a daily basis. You manage those situations by controlling them. And that's what the vehicle does for you, it gives you control in a vehicle ambush. Most often you can take that control just by stepping on the gas.

To make the vehicle's advantages work for you during a vehicle ambush, you need to recognize an attack, have the engine running, and have room to move. Consider what you are doing when you shut the engine off. You are losing the biggest advantage your vehicle can offer you, instant mobility. Once you turn the engine off, you are more vulnerable to an attack because you have made it more difficult to escape.

The less time you spend sitting in a parked car the better. Unfortunately, this is simply not always possible. So you need to have a plan if you have to park your vehicle, shut it off, and sit there for a while.

If you are stopped at a light, you need to pay attention to what is going on around you. Keep your eyes moving and watch your mirrors.

Be aware of people who approach your car on foot. Watch their eyes, their hands, and their demeanor for pre-assault cues. Observe their clothing where they can hide weapons. And if someone approaches your car and raises your suspicions, do a quick 360-degree check to see if there are others with the person.

On a roadway with multiple lanes, stay in the far left lane if possible. This permits vehicles going in your direction to only approach you on the right. This also makes it a little easier for you to watch them.

Vehicles Approaching

As cars approach you, note if they are slowing down. Are their windows down? How many occupants are in the vehicles? Shooters approaching your vehicle in a car are a more likely scenario in light traffic because they can't make their getaway as easily in heavy traffic.

Which brings up a really scary problem: motorcycles. In one country in which shooters on motorcycles was a common tactic, the CIA noted that hardly anyone wore a helmet, partly due to the macho culture and partly due to the expense. On the other hand the bad guys showed a preference for helmets with dark face shields to hide their identity. So anyone with a helmet got an extra look.

At some point, in order to access his or her handgun a motorcycle shooter has to take one hand off the handlebars. That gives you something to watch for. And it may be the only warning you get of a motorcycle attack.

If someone on a motorcycle pulls alongside you and starts shooting, your natural inclination will be to turn away. The CIA learned that if you can train and condition yourself to turn your car into the shooter, you can gain an advantage. The shooter will suddenly need both hands to control the motorcycle and with luck you may cause him or her to crash.

From a Parked Car

With these suggestions in mind, let's return to the problem of sitting in a parked car, with the engine off. Your awareness of the people and vehicles around you is critical in this situation.

Resist the temptation to do anything that interferes with your ability to concentrate on what is going on around you. Unlock the doors so you can exit the vehicle from either side in a hurry-assuming computers and such don't block your way-and make sure the interior light is turned off so it doesn't come on when you open the door.

I think it is also imperative to give some thought to your holstered sidearm and how quickly you can get it into action while seated in a vehicle. Be prepared and willing to shoot through the windshield or side windows of your unit.

Some years ago the Drug Enforcement Administration produced a training film in which agents basically shot up a vehicle at close range with everything in their arsenal-handgun, shotguns, and .223 rifles. After shooting the car to pieces the instructor cleaned the glass off the seat, got in, started it up, and drove away. Bear that in mind if you have to shoot through your car and then use it to scoot away.

Tags: Assaults on Officers, Anchorage PD, Seattle PD, Woodlawn (Ohio) PD, IACP, Dave Grossman, Shooting at Vehicles


Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

Tony Scotti @ 10/18/2011 9:45 AM

Great article

fate300m @ 10/20/2011 2:36 AM

I am just getting out of my police academy and I wished that they would have taught us this in class. I agree, a very informative article. Thank you!

Grady Emmons @ 10/31/2011 12:41 PM

Excellent article! Great advice for any professional, public or private sector.

Demerick @ 2/3/2012 9:41 AM

@fate300m - Your statement takes me back 17 years ago when I too was asking the same question with regards to reality and training, and now just laugh and remember every time I've heard " we don't use that academy crap out here on the street cause it'll get you killed!" nice hua!

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