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Safety tips for solo women drivers

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

    Table of contents

      Studies show that women are safer drivers than men, but they still face greater risks and hazards on the road. When it comes to holiday travel, women not only have to worry about mechanical issues and traffic accidents, but also the possibility of being followed or attacked when on their own.

      A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that “females are more likely than males to be killed or injured in crashes of equal severity.” A study in the American Journal of Public Health adds that women drivers are also consistently underrepresented when it comes to safety considerations for serious and fatal accidents, showing that there is still much room for improvement.

      As the holidays approach and you prepare for a road trip, it’s particularly important as a female driver to be vigilant about road and driver safety. 

      Driving alone

      When you are a female driver on the road, there are certain added risks that you have to protect yourself from. International Association of Chiefs of Police President Ron Ruecker explains that “most crimes involving women drivers occur when they are heading to or away from their cars, particularly in parking lots, where thieves are tempted to steal both cars and property.”

      When driving alone, make sure that you are prepared for common scenarios in case trouble arises. For the best tips on how to stay safe this holiday season, we spoke to the experts.

      Road safety

      Stay alert at all times 

      Be sure to remain cognizant of your surroundings at all times so you can spot and avoid an accident before it happens. 

      “If a woman’s car breaks down at night, she should pay attention to her surroundings even while she’s looking for the cause of the car problems,” says Rick Musson. As an auto insurance consultant with 4AutoInsuranceQuote.com, he also boasts a career in law enforcement spanning nearly two decades. “By paying attention to who and what is around, she can identify potential threats and prepare to deal with them.”

      What to do in a car accident 

      Be sure to pull over somewhere where you are out of the way of traffic, such as the side of the road or the shoulder, and call traffic enforcement for assistance.

      “If you’re in an accident at night, or at any time of the day, you should contact the police. A police report is essential when filing a claim with your insurance company, and some states require police reports for vehicle damage over a certain threshold, which is usually so low that a fender bender qualifies.”

      -Rick Musson

      While you’re waiting for police to arrive, Arnold Chapman suggests that you protect the scene. As a former trucker with decades of experience on the road, today he is the founder of ELDFocus.com, an online magazine dedicated to automotive safety. “Set up flares so you can prevent more accidents from happening,” he says. “If you don’t have flares, turn your flashing lights on. A flashlight can also be handy if it’s dark.”

      What to do if your car breaks down 

      Pull over to a safe location and note your location before calling for assistance. “Be aware of your surroundings and inform someone of your whereabouts,” says Chapman. “Find out if there are any establishments nearby. Look for a lamppost, mile marker, or major establishment you can tell about to the person you’re calling for help.

      When calling for help, consider professional assistance from services such as AAA, OnStar or your auto insurance company, or contact someone you know and trust, like a friend or family member. “Purchase roadside assistance from your insurance company or an independent company,” says Musson. “If your vehicle breaks down, you can contact your provider and have help sent out quickly.”

      Regular maintenance tips 

      “The best way to stay safe on the road is to prevent an emergency,” says Kristen Bolig, a security expert and founder of SecurityNerd.

      “It’s especially important that female drivers are proactive about basic car maintenance to avoid experiencing car issues at night. You should get safety checks done before any long trips when you know you’ll be driving at night. Make sure you get regular check-ups on your engine, tires, oil, coolant, and transmission fluid.”

      -Kristen Bolig

      If you are a woman with a driver’s license, you should have the tools and know how to perform some basic vehicle maintenance tasks, such as the following: 

      Oil check“You need to get your oil changed every three months, especially if you constantly drive,” says Chapman. “A well-oiled engine will run smoothly. Dirty oil will lead to engine failure and thousands in car repair.” 
      Fill tires“Tires are one of the most common issues that can make your car undrivable in an instant,” warns Musson. “Sometimes, there is nothing you can do to prevent a flat tire, but you can reduce your overall risk by staying on schedule for tire rotations and by keeping your tires properly inflated.”
      Washer fluidWindshield wiper fluid can help you keep your view clear and free of any obstructions you may encounter on the road.
      Power steeringPower steering fluid is a special hydraulic fluid that will ensure your power steering doesn’t give out at the wrong time.
      Jumper cablesIf your battery dies, jumper cables can get you back on the road quickly when you find a safe party to give you a jump. Seek a well-lit area and choose a store/gas station associate to assist in the jump.
      Battery changeYour car battery should be replaced every few years, so it’s always a good idea to keep a spare on-hand in case you experience trouble on the road. Or at least practice changing it out in case you have to make an unexpected swap mid-travels.
      Car jack and spareFlat tires are common with nails, glass and debris that frequent U.S. roadways, so having a car jack and a spare tire can be an enormous help if you encounter a flat. Being comfortable and confident with a tire swap can minimize your risk from time spent on the side of the road.
      Tire pressure gaugeA tire pressure gauge helps you keep your tires properly inflated so that you can preempt blowouts, flats and other issues on the road. 
      Car escape toolIf you are involved in an accident and find yourself trapped, it’s critical that you have a car escape tool to help you extricate yourself from a harmful situation.
      Emergency kit“It’s always a good idea to prepare for the worst,” says Bolig. “You should add an emergency kit to your case just in case you experience a breakdown. The emergency kit should include basic safety items like jumper cables, a first aid kit, water, non-perishable food, and a flashlight.”
      Fire extinguisherIf there is a fire in or around your vehicle, a fire extinguisher will help you put out the flames before more damage can be done.

      Parking safety

      Parking lots and garages are an especially risky place for female drivers. When you are alone and parking your car, you should consider these critical parking safety tips. 

      1. Be aware of your surroundings. When you are exiting your car, be sure to keep alert and be mindful of your surroundings at all times. This will help you see trouble coming before it’s too late. 

      “If you’re parking in a parking garage, you need to be extra attentive. Parking garages are dark and you’ll have difficulties seeing people and objects. They can also be empty at times, and people with poor intentions can attack you out of nowhere.”

      -Arnold Chapman
      1. Park in a well-lit area. Criminals and thieves generally use darkness as a form of cover, so you can eliminate some threat by parking in a well-lit area where there is no room to hide. An added benefit, says Chapman, is that “it will also be easier for you to park your car if you have a clear view.”
      1. Park close to your destination. It may take a little more time to find the right spot, but parking near the entrance can ensure that there are more people around to help if you need it.
      1. Walk with someone to your car. When it’s late and dark outside, you are more susceptible to crime if you are on your own. Instead of walking alone to your car, ask a coworker or a store employee to help you to your car, so you’re less likely to be attacked.

      Rideshare safety

      Although enormously helpful, the birth of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft have also given rise to an all-new threat against solo female travelers. In Uber’s U.S. Safety Report, sexual assault is the most common of incidents, with 23% of Uber female passengers reporting an uncomfortable encounter with a driver. The risks are exacerbated for female drivers who are not allowed to have a travel companion when they are accepting rides. 

      When you are a female using a ridesharing service alone, these are some considerations to keep in mind. 

      Passengers

      Verify the driver. Before entering a vehicle, be sure to consult your app for the driver’s information. The app also gives you the vehicle information so you can confirm the make, model and license plate, as well as the driver’s identification.

      Sit in the back. To some, it may feel rude to sit in the back, but it’s an important boundary that you are setting with the driver. By allowing for more space, you are able to enact a protective barrier around your space.  Check the child safety locks before entering the vehicle.  If they’re activated you can turn them off, but if you feel uneasy about accepting the ride, then don’t get in. 

      “Most accidents happen to people sitting upfront,” warns Chapman. “You will have a clear exit path if something goes amiss. Sitting at the back will also give you more space to move.”

      Call a friend. When ridesharing can be avoided, it’s always a good idea. Before calling an Uber or Lyft, consider whether a family member or friend can give you a ride.

      Chapman suggests keeping in touch with a loved one. “Share the trip with other people, such as your parents, the person you live with, or your partner,” he says, thinking back to his own time on the road. “Doing so will let people track your whereabouts. People will get a notification of your ride and follow you through GPS.”

      Drivers

      Verify the passenger. Just like passengers receive your information, drivers are also able to preview their passengers. This includes not only a photo ID but also rating information from other drivers.

      Refuse fares if you feel uncomfortable. When you look at a customer’s profile, you are able to see ratings and other details from their ride history. If you see something that gives cause for alarm, you can skip the ride altogether. 

      Check in with friends or family. One of the things you can do if you drive for Uber and Lyft is share your location with a spouse or parent. You may not always have time to check in when you’re busy with rides, but by sharing your location enables someone to know where you are at all times.

      Apps and tools for women safety 

      There are many devices, apps and tools that you can use today to help keep yourself safe as a female driver on the road. “To fully enjoy the apps, you need to have a clear view of your phone while driving,” says Chapman. “A phone mount will securely hold your phone. Make sure that you mount it on an area where you can glance at it without taking your eyes off the road.”

      “Make sure you also pack a charger to keep your cell phone fully charged,” adds Bolig. “This way, you can call for emergency roadside assistance, family members, or friends when you’re in distress.”

      While you’re waiting for help, your phone can be a handy tool for emergency guidance. 

      Safety apps

      Shake2SafetyWhen you need help but need to be discrete, simple shortcuts like tapping the power button several times or shaking your phone will send alerts. 
      GasBuddy“With GasBuddy, you can have access to the nearest gas station in your area with the lowest price,” shares Chapman. “You can also plan how much fuel you’ll be needing on your road trips.”
      RadarScope“The weather can greatly affect your driving, so it’s important that you know when it’s safe to drive,” explains Chapman. “Unlike other weather apps, RadarScope’s radar images are not delayed. The app has detailed images sent to you within the 5 minutes time frame.”
      DriveModeTo help reduce distracted driving, this app silences incoming calls, texts and notifications when you’re driving over 15mph so you can keep your focus on the road.
      Drivesafe.lyIf you have to use your phone on the road, this app provides hands-free notifications and messaging, so you never have to take your hands off the wheel.

      Defensive tools

      Cat ear keychainThe simple pointed shape of cat ears can also work as a weapon if you find yourself suddenly caught by surprise. 
      Taser deviceA taser or stun gun can deliver an electric shock to assailants, temporarily stunning them, so you have time to get away. 
      Tactical penA tactical pen is designed to be compact and easy to use with the dual purpose of both writing utensil and self-defense weapon.
      Personal safety alarmThere are many kinds of discrete personal alarms that you can attach to your keyring or bag for easy access when you need to summon help and surprise your attacker.

      Bottom line

      Robert Siciliano, a Cyber Social Identity Protection instructor at ProtectNow and bestselling author, leaves us with a few final tips for our solo female voyagers this season.

      • Give someone your travel plans, including a complete itinerary, before you leave.
      • Don’t tell anyone that you’re traveling alone, no matter how friendly they seem.
      • Do not carry a lot of cash; use your ATM card or credit card.
      • Leave the pricey jewelry and high priced designer handbags behind.
      • Wear functional shoes, like sneakers, when driving. You can run or walk easily in these as opposed to flip-flops or heels. 
      • Never ask strangers for directions — only ask employees.
      • Carry pepper spray on your person

      “Prevention is critical to a safe driving experience,” adds Musson. As an insurance expert, he knows all too well the cost of car trouble. “Don’t ignore seemingly small problems. If you feel a shimmy or hear an infrequent clunking sound, have those issues checked out by your mechanic.”

      As many Americans embark on holiday travel, remember to stay aware, use an abundance of caution and don’t let the holiday spirit distract you from following through on your driver safeguards so you can arrive back home without incident once the holidays have passed.