Personal Safety Tips for Teens: (parking lots, car jacking & kidnapping)

by Cliff Prosser

These personal defense and safety tips will be especially helpful to women and teens, but they are pertinent to everyone who has to move around in public during these dangerous times. It’s a sad commentary that we almost have to adopt the same “perpetual aggressor” mindset that police officers live with, but we simply can’t afford not to.


Parking on the street and in parking decks

  •   Obviously, you will want to park as close to your destination as possible when parking on the street to reduce your time of exposure to potential dangers.
  • Ÿ  Be aware of your environment when you park, and look around you before you begin to get out of the vehicle.
  • Ÿ  If after dark, always park in a lighted area when possible.
  • Ÿ  ALWAYS lock your vehicle, and always lock any valuables that you have to leave in the car inside the trunk, console or glove box when possible. Visible valuables are bait to potential thieves. Potential thieves are potential personal safety threats as well.
  • Ÿ  If you have to feed a parking meter, have the change ready in your hand when you get out of the car so that you don’t have to expose your purse for easier “snatching” while you dig for change.
  • Ÿ  If you are walking in an area that is potentially unsafe, pre-dial 911 and carry your cell phone in the opposite hand from your purse. If something happens or you recognize a danger unfolding, you will only have to press “send”. Better yet, check your phone’s capability to see if you have one touch 911 dialing and automatic GPS tracking with your emergency phone function.
  • Ÿ  Carry your keys in your dominant hand, with at least one key gripped as a potential weapon for face or eye gouging in the event that you are assaulted.
  • Ÿ  As you get out of your vehicle, have your “panic alarm” button on your key bob at ready in case something happens. Then if someone assaults or threatens you, you can push the alarm. If the assailant continues toward you, immediately throw your keys as far away as you can beyond or at an angle away from the assailant and run in the opposite direction. The assailant will have to choose at this point between recovering the keys and continuing after you. The alarm sounding should help you in that event if there are other people anywhere nearby. If there are no people nearby, you probably made an unwise decision to park in that location to begin with.
  • Ÿ  When parking in a deck, always try to follow the same procedures mentioned above.
  • Ÿ  Always use an elevator in a deck when available rather than a stairwell. Stairwells are frequently not covered by security cameras, and your avenues of escape and movement are fewer and you are less visible to potential help.
  • Ÿ  When walking to and from your vehicle, try not to walk close to the line of parked cars. This will prevent someone from quickly grabbing you and pulling you between cars.
  • Ÿ  Check to see if the deck has security cameras, and try to make sure you park in areas that are covered by the cameras.
  • Ÿ  As you walk toward your car in a parking deck, push the button on your key bob that will turn your interior light and headlamps on. This will illuminate your car interior and some exterior area, and will hopefully allow you to see if anyone is hiding in or near your car as you approach, or perhaps frighten a potential aggressor away.
  • Ÿ  When you illuminate your vehicle as suggested above, if someone shows themselves and is an obvious threat, hit the “panic” button on the key bob and begin moving away from the vehicle. If the potential assailant continues toward you, throw your keys as far as you can away from the assailant and run away with the alarm sounding.
  • Ÿ  If you have no alternative but to walk in an area that is not secure and you are uneasy, call someone you trust on your cell phone and keep them on the line as you walk to or from your car. If you see someone who may become an assailant, describe that person or persons to the person on the phone and give your location. The fact that you’re on the phone may be in itself a deterrent to a potential aggressor.
  • Ÿ  Don’t temporarily pull into secluded and darkened, closed up areas to make a cell phone call or text, or to rummage through your purse or billfold. While it’s advisable to pull off the road to make cell calls rather than to be distracted while driving, make sure you pull off into a safe place, like a large open parking lot, and one that’s well lit at night.

Carjacking or Kidnapping Attempts


  • Ÿ  If you are stopped at a traffic signal or stop sign and someone approaches in a suspicious manner, drive away as quickly as possible, even if it means running the light or stop sign. Obviously, you want to try to determine a clear driving path if possible so as not to further endanger yourself and others.
  • Ÿ  It is never a good idea to drive away at the order of a kidnapper or car- jacker. It is frequently better to tell the kidnapper that he’ll have to do whatever he’s going to do right there. When you leave the area, the likelihood of serious injury or death increases dramatically. Obviously, there’s no guarantee that your refusal to drive him somewhere will protect you, but the odds are statistically better for you.
  • Ÿ  If an assailant manages to surprise you and opens your driver’s door and orders you into the passenger seat, and you can’t drive away from him, as you move into the passenger seat try to open the passenger door and jump out and run screaming toward the closest help. In other words, let him have the car. Save yourself
  • Ÿ  If you are approached by a suspicious person or an aggressor while stopped in your car at a signal, lock the doors and hit the panic alarm as stated earlier. If the aggressor persists and you can’t drive away from him, try to do what was suggested earlier and throw the keys away from the car with the alarm on
  • Ÿ  If a carjacker is successful in forcing you to drive away from a location, and your seat belt is on, look to see whether he has fastened his safety belt. If he is unbelted, you may be able to intentionally crash the vehicle to disable the car and the carjacker in extreme circumstances.  If you make a decision that you need to intentionally crash your vehicle, look for a fixed object, such as a utility pole, that you can strike with the passenger side front of your vehicle. This will focus the impact energy into a small area directly in front of your kidnapper, and the change of velocity will be the greatest for him. The “moment arm”, or distance from impact area, and the rotation of your seat position through the collision will give you a much greater chance of riding the collision down without serious injury. Another option is to look for a police car and do whatever is necessary to draw the officer’s attention. 
  • Ÿ  NEVER leave your keys in the vehicle ignition or leave your motor running while you refuel your car, or run inside a convenience store to make a quick purchase. There is a temptation to do this when you have small children or a pet in the car with you, and you’re in a hurry. Take the extra few seconds and take the child or children in the store with you, and shut the car off and partially open the windows for your pet. In addition to the fire danger that exists when you refuel with the ignition on, it can be inviting to car thieves or car jackers.


I recall a story several years ago in which a woman was car jacked at gun point and was told to drive a particular route. She immediately set a course for the nearest police station, and every time the car-jacker threatened to shoot her, she calmly told him that he would have to do it here. As she slowed for a turn on the way to the station, he chose to open the door and jump out, giving up on whatever he had intended. There’s no guarantee that this will work, but the danger is probably not significantly more than what already statistically exists.  In fact, it’s probably lower. A kidnapper’s intent in taking you with him is not to discuss the weather or politics and then release you. His intent is usually to do you harm, statistics confirm.

Information about author:

Cliff A Prosser

Consulting technician in the areas of:

  Motor Vehicle Collision Investigation

  Motor Vehicle Collision Reconstruction

  Motor Vehicle Collision Evidence Documentation

  Certified CDR (Vetronix) ACM download technician and analyst

  Sole proprietor of Traffic Accident Consulting Services (DBA) (not incorporated)


 Works Authored

Article:  "Conspicuity:  Problem and Solution" (March 1992)

                 Published in the A.A.L.I. Newsletter (April, 1993)

                 Revised,  February, 1995

 Book : "Traffic Accident Investigation;  A Handbook for the Field Officer". 

   Prepared primarily as a training and field reference text for in-service                                                                                               

   Police Officer .Final manuscript revision presently being submitted for publication.


 Booklet : "Self Awareness;  Preventing Police Officer "Burnout"

                   subtitled:  “Emotional Survival in a Law Enforcement Career”

                   (not traffic crash related)

 Booklet: “The Young Driver’s Primer;  Know Your Limitations”                     

                  Prepared initially for donation to driver’s education curriculums in local high schools.  

                  Accompanies a Teen Driver’s Workshop, which includes classroom and exercises

                  Published by the Institute of  Police Technology  and Management, University of  

                  North Florida 2008.

Booklet: “Traffic Crash Scene Response - A Guide for the Field Officer”

     A basic task checklist field guide, with protocol explanations, for the officer with  

     basic accident investigation skills, but presumably no advanced training.

     This booklet has been published by, and is marketed by, the Institute of Police   

     Technology & Management, an extension of the University of North Florida. This   

     work has been translated into Spanish for training of  the Honduran National Police.