It’s been a long day at work, and traffic on your commute home is not making your day any easier. It’s bumper to bumper and moving along at a crawl when you realize you need to move into the right lane to make your exit. You flip on your turn signal and glance over your shoulder, only to see there is no real gap in the apparently endless string of cars and trucks.
How Road Rage Starts
One driver, seeing your plight, begins to make room for you to merge, but the guy behind him moves in to close the gap. You try to move up, but traffic won’t allow it. Merging becomes a game of cat-and-mouse. You finally see a bit of a gap and deftly swoop into the right lane just in time to make your exit. As you roll down the off-ramp, you hear the blaring of a car horn behind you and can see in your mirror the driver of a black Nissan waving his arms as he repeatedly blasts his horn and throws finger gestures your way. You ignore him.
Ahead of you, a driver tries to rush through the intersection, but circumstances conspire against him and all the other drivers this afternoon. Tires squeal, and the sounds of fenders being crushed and glass breaking fill the air as two vehicles collide several car lengths ahead of you. You know you will be stuck at this off-ramp for a while.
Within seconds of the impact, you are startled by the sound of something hitting the roof of your car. There, standing by your door, is the driver of the Nissan. He is bashing the top of your car with some sort of object as he screams obscenities about how you apparently cut him off on the highway earlier. He is demanding that you get out of the car, screaming about your driving skills, your mother and how he can’t believe you ever got a license.
A Deadly Threat Emerges…
As he bashes the top of your car yet another time, you clearly hear the man holler, “I will kill you!” Those words are followed by another crashing blow on the roof, but this time you look up to see that the claws of a framing hammer have penetrated the roof of your car and that the man is struggling to free the hammer for another swing. He shouts, “I’ll drag your dumb ass outta this car and teach you how to drive!”
Your Self-Defense Options:
- Get out of the car and fight
- Drive away
- Pull your gun and shoot through the window
- Call 911 right away
Things to Consider Before You Act in Self-Defense
Do you know the laws of your state? Do you have a duty to retreat, or can you use deadly force to stop this assault? Even if you have a duty to retreat, do you have the ability? From a tactical standpoint, can you access your gun, get on target and fire? What will happen if you do?
In some states, the Castle Doctrine applies and allows you to respond with deadly force if you are inside your vehicle and someone tries to gain entry. But using deadly force should always be the final option.
This is a very serious and rapidly evolving situation. Clearly, the weapon the attacker has chosen could kill you or cause you great bodily harm. He has already driven it through the roof of your vehicle. This action alone may be used to show his intent, but the words he has uttered clearly show that he intends to kill you. Right now, no one can argue that you are in grave danger.
Can You Escape?
Let’s first look at your escape options. Can you drive away? If you have paid attention to your surroundings, you should have left an “escape option” in front of you. In bumper-to-bumper traffic, you should always try to leave at least a half of a car length of open space in front of you when you come to a stop sign or traffic signal. This space will, in some cases, allow you to drive away from trouble if you need to. If, in heavy traffic, you pull right up behind the car stopped in front of you, you have no room to maneuver if you need to escape. With a half a car length of open space in front of you, you can turn the wheels and get your car moving, even if you have to go down in the ditch or up on the sidewalk to get away from danger.
You can use your car to “clear some room,” but remember: This might be considered using deadly force and, if you have to ram another vehicle to make your escape, you might damage your car to the point that it is no longer drivable. That not only limits your escape options but also could provoke even greater anger in your attacker. If you must push another vehicle with yours, slowly make contact, then hit that gas. This will reduce the initial impact (which could set off your airbag system).
If you can drive away, you should drive away. This situation is dangerous and volatile.
Don’t Ditch Your Vehicle!
If, while reading this, you were thinking of getting out of the car to either talk to this guy or engage in a hands-on fight, please think again. There is no telling what he is capable of doing, and facing down a man wielding a hammer is not how you want to end a long day. Your car provides you a level of protection. The attacker will have to smash the windows and unlock the doors to get at you, and the confined space of the vehicle takes away some of his advantage. But don’t get me wrong: Staying put in your car does not ensure your safety. You are still in grave danger. But you would increase that danger if you got out of your car.
Should You Draw Your Gun?
If you choose to draw your gun and engage your attacker with defensive gunfire, you will be bringing an entirely new set of “what if?/what now?” questions to the table, the first of which is access and engagement.
Where do you carry your gun? Can you access it from the seated position? Is the seatbelt in the way? Have you ever trained for this eventuality? Can you safely draw the gun and bring it to bear on your attacker without sweeping the muzzle across your body?
Once you get the gun into play, can you get the sights on target? Depending on where the attacker is standing, you could have real trouble even getting the gun pointed accurately. There is a reason most police officers never move forward of the “B” post during a traffic stop. (For those not familiar, the “A” post is at the edge of the windshield. The “B” post is at the back edge of the forwardmost door. The “C” post is at the edge of the rear window and, in the case of station wagons, the “D” post is at the rear of the cargo area.)
If your attacker stays at or behind the “B” post, you will have a very difficult time bringing your gun to bear. A right-handed shooter will have to draw, turn and fire over his right shoulder. And, of course, the post provides some cover. Staying at the “B” post makes target acquisition very tough for a person seated in the driver’s seat.
Shooting From a Vehicle
You’ve also got to consider what it is like to shoot a gun inside an enclosed vehicle without hearing protection. You will very likely be shooting through glass. Unless you are wearing sunglasses, you will be doing this without eye protection. The noise and pressure of firing from inside a car is intense. I have only ever done it with hearing protection, and it was still enough to be disconcerting the first few times. Add to that the exploding glass that comes with shooting through a tempered side window, and you have added a level of distraction and danger above and beyond that of the incident unfolding around you. This is indeed a desperate and dangerous situation on many levels.
If you shoot this man, you will be required to prove that you reasonably believed that he presented an imminent deadly threat, that he had the means and intent to carry out his threat and that you had no other option but to use deadly force. If the Castle Doctrine in your state carries over to occupied vehicles, that may provide some help in your legal defense, but — even if it does — you will likely still need to show you had no other options.
A Verbal Challenge?
You might want to pull your gun and issue a verbal challenge. Order the attacker to stop and leave you alone. But this presents another tactical problem for you. If you pull your gun and issue a verbal challenge, you might give the attacker the chance to drop his hammer and reach for a gun of his own. His doing so clearly escalates the situation to one that requires defensive gunfire on your part, but that puts you in even more danger. The last place you want to be when someone is shooting at you is trapped inside a car. Almost nothing in the car will stop bullets, but pretty much everything impedes your movements. If your attacker starts shooting, you need to get out the far side of the car as quickly as you can.
When Should You Call 911?
The one thing we have not addressed to this point is the call to 911. It should be a given that you reach for your phone and dial the emergency number as soon as you can. At the very least, dial 911 and put the phone down on the floor of the car and shout to the dispatcher as much information as you can while quickly considering your options. Shout out exactly what is happening and where you are. Shout at the attacker and tell him to stop. All of that will get recorded by the emergency dispatch system and should help in your legal defense. Make the call to 911 as soon as you can.
Fight to Survive, But Don’t Forget About the Legal Aftermath
Being attacked by a madman as you sit in your car is a terrifying proposition and one you must handle correctly if you want to survive. And once the fight is over, you have the legal aftermath to deal with.
If you have ever seen a road-rage incident, this is something you should think about long before it ever happens.
What would you do?
About Kevin Michalowski
Executive Editor of Concealed Carry Magazine Kevin Michalowski is a USCCA and NRA Certified Trainer. He has attended training as both instructor and student in multiple disciplines, including pistol, rifle, shotgun, empty-hand defense and rapid response to the active shooter. Kevin is also a fully certified part-time law enforcement officer in rural Wisconsin.