Whether because of rioting or mass evacuations caused by natural disasters, law-abiding citizens need to be prepared to exit danger zones by utilizing backroads to find safety. It doesn’t matter if you are driving across the country, across the state or across town; you have to be prepared to avoid trouble spots that may erupt anywhere and at any time. Backroads may be your best (or even only) option to escape to safety.
(Involuntary) Extended Stay
Avoidance of trouble spots alone is not enough. You also need to prepare for general survival for several days in case you are stranded along the backroads or in desolate areas. Make sure to take adequate supplies with you, including food and water. And don’t kid yourself: This applies to short trips in your home state too.
Even for a routine one-night stay in Ohio’s Amish Country — a 40-minute drive from my home — I pack emergency food and a supply backpack, 24 bottles of water, extra flashlight batteries, my M1A1 Carbine and Remington R1 Executive Ultralight Compact .45, and spare ammo. This isn’t because I worry that I will be attacked by hordes of the Amish armed with pitchforks; it’s a very safe area. But with America repeatedly demonstrating her ability to go haywire at a moment’s notice, I want to ensure I can get my family home safely if I suddenly find my stay involuntarily extended.
I never in my adult life thought I would have to plan this way for an overnight stay just 40 minutes from my home. But that is the reality we face today. And it is no trouble to pack these items, but it would be big trouble to be without them if I needed them.
Paper Maps Are King
The GPS system, as found on your smartphone, your vehicle’s dashboard or a freestanding device, is clearly a fantastic tool. It can, when properly working, direct you to nearly any place on the globe. The device has made driving to unfamiliar locales so much simpler. And it is particularly important to me since my wife is blind and can’t act as my navigator. But relying solely on GPS during an emergency can present some issues.
Any device can break, including your GPS. These devices are also known to wig out on occasion, sending you down a one-way road or to an abandoned parking lot that you thought was still an operating business. For any kind of trip, nothing beats a good old-fashioned paper map to back up your GPS. While it can certainly tear, a map will never break or malfunction on you. Also, a paper map makes it easier to view a much larger area — important when plotting your exit strategy.
I have a Rand McNally Road Atlas in the emergency supply box in my truck. On road trips, I keep it up front. I’ve used it several times to confirm what my GPS was telling me. Rand McNally has an online store where you can purchase even more detailed paper maps for only $6.99. If you are going anywhere near a major city, it would be wise to have a detailed paper map to supplement your road atlas.
Your Vehicle’s Capabilities (And Hindrances)
It is impossible to discuss backroads or emergency vehicular exit strategies without discussing your specific vehicle’s capabilities.
Not all vehicles are created equal. While most of today’s sedans and SUVs have either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD), that doesn’t mean they are all-terrain vehicles like true four-wheel-drive, body-on-frame vehicles. They will not take a lot of abuse if they aren’t off-road rated. Although any vehicle can get stuck if abused enough, you have to be conscientious where you take an AWD vehicle.
Another factor is the automatic engine cut-off feature that activates when you’re stopped in traffic. This feature is designed to reduce vehicle emissions, but this momentary hesitation is concerning if you need to move immediately in an emergency. I have this feature on my Ford Ranger, but, fortunately, I can override it by pushing a button after I start the engine. Not all makes and models have this override capability. When you’re stopped in a high-risk area, make sure you’re doing what is needed to keep your car’s engine running.
Whenever you’re stopped in traffic, maintain enough clear distance ahead in your vehicle so that you can move left or right into opposite- or same-direction lanes.
Another electronic convenience that could be detrimental to your escape is the “lane-keeping-assist” function. If the sensors detect your car being too close to the edge or center of the road divider lines, it will pull your car back into the lane of travel. I use this feature on an open freeway during long trips but switch it off if I’m in a high-risk zone. While your steering can override lane-keeping, it still works against you momentarily. When trying to make a lifesaving maneuver, you need everything you can have working FOR you.
Have You Prepared and Planned
As to vehicle construction, a lower-slung vehicle such as a sedan will not perform well if you try to push by an obstacle into a free-flowing lane of traffic. A low-slung car may not be able to clear a high lane divider either. Attempting to do so might find you caught on the lane divider, unable to escape, or it may rip a critical operating portion (such as the oil pan) off of your car. In either of these cases, you won’t get far. With a vehicle like this, you’ll have to be especially careful about conditions up ahead.
Whenever you’re stopped in traffic, maintain enough clear distance ahead in your vehicle so that you can move left or right into opposite- or same-direction lanes. If you are in the right lane, be prepared to drive over a curb, through grass and even over light obstacles to get away. You can only do that if you leave yourself an out.
It’s not all about the machine you’re driving either. Think about your personal capabilities as a driver. Are your eyes and reflexes up to par? Do you know that you could take the necessary emergency action to move your family to safety? You may be saying to yourself, “Of course I could. What kind of a dumb question is that?”
But have you really planned it out the same way you may have planned out how to draw your weapon and move your family to safety during a potential shooting event? Are you prepared to blow stop signs or traffic signals while avoiding crossing traffic? Will you be ready to use your vehicle to push an obstructing vehicle out of the way if your vehicle is capable of doing that? Are you willing to constantly be on the lookout for an escape route before you enter dangerous territory? These are all questions you should be asking yourself well before you find yourself facing such a deadly situation.
Bold vehicular action is not referring to or advocating mowing down rioters with your vehicle. Every situation over the past year in which a motorist has driven through a crowd bent on violent actions has landed the driver — not the violent members of the crowd — in a world of trouble. It at least seems apparent from the videos of these incidents that the motorists in question had plenty of time to make U-turns and clear the danger areas. But they didn’t. Instead, they drove right into the melees.
Are you willing to turn around and drive the wrong way on the side of the road or in a grassy median strip to escape? Is your vehicle capable of doing that without getting stuck? Are you willing to drive against traffic under the right conditions? You may have not thought of these questions and considerations before. You need to start thinking about them now.
If rioters have swarmed your vehicle and are on top of the hood or roof, there is nothing wrong with gently accelerating, allowing these people to get off the car as you move away from trouble. Don’t stop if your side windows are shattered. There is nothing you can do at the moment other than keep going. The same goes for a deflated tire. You can drive on a tire rim for miles. In the old days, I was in police vehicle pursuits where rooster tails of sparks were thrown to the rear by a suspect’s wheels grinding on the asphalt. Wheels can be replaced. Lives can’t. Keep going until you are in a safe zone.
If you are traveling with children, they need to be out of their seats and on the floor in “duck and cover” positions. Get them on the floor before things really get bad. If you have an infant, it may be best to cover him or her with a blanket to try and shield him or her from breaking glass. Holding the child in your lap in the front seat isn’t a good option; the possibility of airbag deployment makes that plan untenable. As usual, you need to decide what will work best for your family.
A competent navigator in the co-pilot’s seat is worth his or her weight in gold. While the driver’s mission is to drive, the navigator’s mission is to put the route together minute by minute — even second by second. The navigator will be watching the physical map as well as keeping an eye on the GPS. He or she will also help watch the roadway for emerging threats. You should brief your navigator of his or her escape and evade (E&E) responsibilities before departing on a trip: If the situation begins to look dicey, the navigator should grab the road atlas or area map to locate a “safe spot.”
The navigator should also be willing and able to handle a firearm or less-lethal weapon if the car is breached. Shooting anything while driving is difficult at best. The driver should be focused on escaping, keeping both hands on the wheel. Remember, you must be able to prove your life was in danger before you resorted to lethal force.
A safe location must be located before your trip begins. There has to be a goal in mind, and the best escape route is the nearest route to rural territory — open, rural farming territory — where the folks tend to be the friendliest.
I used to live in an agricultural rural area in pre-cellphone days. Because I lived on a busy two-lane state route, I had to drive down the road to a nearby farm road to do my jogging. I cannot tell you the number of times that drivers would stop to ask if I needed help when they saw that I parked my truck along the road and was running. I gratefully thanked them and explained I was jogging. Thinking of it always puts a smile on my face.
A safe location must be located before your trip begins.
During my time at Union County Sheriff’s Office, I worked with other deputies on marijuana eradication. In one instance, we were parked along a rural road surrounded by cornfields in an unmarked vehicle awaiting the search helicopter. A young mother with three kids in a van stopped and asked if we needed help. We laughed and explained what we were doing. It was surprising to see a lone mother with her young children stop to ask three males in a vehicle if they needed help, but that’s how farm folks are. These are the areas to which you need to head.
Once you make it to the safe rural area, it’s time to regroup. Assess your passengers and vehicle for injuries and damage. Take time to let your adrenaline levels return to normal, but keep your eyes open and your weapon ready. Take time to recheck your maps and GPS. Try to navigate to a small-town gas station to fuel up, purchase supplies (if needed) and handle vehicle repairs. Contact loved ones to let them know you are OK and are navigating backroads to return home. Check news coverage of what is going on in other areas to see if main roads are safe to travel before making the return journey.
There is nothing to fear about backroads driving, especially with the high-level reliability of a well-maintained modern vehicle. Remember that the No. 1 cause of vehicle breakdown is running out of gas, so wherever you travel, keep that tank topped off. While you may think that it will take you longer to get home by taking the back way, it probably won’t because you won’t be facing traffic jams inflicted by rioting or mass evacuations.
In the fall, my wife and I will be heading to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for my nephew’s wedding — the same city where my pastor and his wife were trapped in their hotel during the George Floyd riots in 2020. You can bet I will be checking the atlas long before we travel. You should too. Don’t leave anything up to chance.
Rand McNally: Store.RandMcNally.com