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Driver's Ed

September 2, 2007

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matthew De Galan  </span>
    Don’t leave home without them. Photo: Matthew De Galan

After my encounter with the soldier, I am hungry for tips on security. So at dinner I turn to Mugur, a Romanian who heads our emergency team here and has worked in some of the world's most dangerous places — Chechnya, Liberia, Darfur, Bosnia. Tonight's lesson: staying safe on the road in hostile environments. Some key points:

  • Keep the windows rolled down and the radio off. This enables you to hear better — sounds like gunshots in the distance, guards shouting orders or a rifle being prepared for firing.
  • Keep the interior light on when driving at night. You might think it makes you an easier target, but it actually gives people information — namely, that you are not military personnel and are not armed.
  • When you approach a checkpoint, keep your hands visible on the dashboard. Make no sudden movements. Cooperate and do what they say. If they ask or your papers, ask them if you can get them from your pocket, and move VERY slowly. Don't volunteer anything. Just wait for them to tell you what they want.
  • Don't use your radio or cell phone at a checkpoint. Do nothing. Just sit and wait.
  • If they make you leave your car, roll the windows up and lock it. This helps prevent them planting evidence — a bullet in the backseat, for example — that could be used as justification to steal your car or, worse, arrest or shoot you.
  • While driving, though, keep the windows down — not only to listen, but it also helps distribute pressure if you hit an anti-personnel mine. If you hit an anti-tank mine, well, it doesn't really matter whether the windows are up or down. You're pretty much dead.
  • Watch for fallen trees or people on the side of the road looking injured or in need. Sure signs of an ambush. If it's a tree and you can't get by, wait. If it's a person on the road and you can keep going, then don't stop. No matter how bad it looks.
  • And if you forget everything else, remember this: Always carry a pack of cigarettes — opened. You can offer them to soldiers and diffuse a situation. If the pack is closed, they'll take it all, leaving you empty handed for the next checkpoint. "This is life saving stuff," Mugur says. He is dead serious. On my way to bed I buy a pack of Sportsman's at the front desk.