Driving 101: Basic Skills

Part of our game plan is telling people things they don't want to hear, so let's start with this: Statistically, you probably suck at driving.

December 30, 2019


In this series, we're going to discuss vehicle tactics. Not “throw-yourself-to-the-ground-and-shoot” vehicle tactics. No, no. We're going to talk about things that will help keep you from letting the situation rot to the point that those tactics are necessary. Part of our game plan is telling people things they don't want to hear, so let's start with this: Statistically, you probably suck at driving.

When polled, people categorically claim that they're "above average", and it's everyone else who sucks behind the wheel. The truth is, when you're honest with yourself about how often you speed, get pulled over, or change lanes without signaling, we get a different picture. The good news: almost all motor vehicle related problems can be prevented if you keep your eyes on the road, use your signals, think ahead, and keep your cool.

"Where's the part about shooting bad guys?" you ask. Well, we'll get there. But before we do, let's make sure we have a firm understanding of literally every other (much better) option.

Good Practice

We spend about 1/12 of our lives in vehicles. On a daily basis, driving is probably the most dangerous thing you do. Guns get a lot of press, but about as many people are killed in motor vehicle accidents as in all firearms related deaths combined. It's easy to point and say "if you'd followed the rules, you'd be fine". However, routine tasks have a way of getting us to drop our guard. Though we will talk about “ideal” situations, we know in reality, fatigue, boredom, phones, screaming kid, and automotive sign language all cause our posture to go a little slack.

Considerations on Best Practice

Form is important in everything we do.
  • We try to keep our hands at "Nine and Three", if the wheel was a clock face. This hand position allows for 180 degree control over steering wheel, proximity to signals, etc.

  • The seat should be situated so your wrist rests on top of the wheel. This allows the arms to take a neutral, relaxed posture with less wrist articulation and more control, especially at high speeds or off road.
  • Don't hook your thumbs around the wheel. Grab it firmly with your fingers. In a collision or off-road where jolts happen fast, this could spare you a break, sprain, or hyper-extension.

  • Don't wear headphones, or ...this should go without saying... watch videos/movies if you're driving.
  • Use your signals. Seriously guys, this is the least you can do.
  • Stop texting and driving. It's better to get stopped for calling than go off the road while texting.

  • Be cool. Don't cut people off, don't respond to road rage, and be respectful. If you wouldn't step in front of someone in a line, or while out at a bar, don't do it on the road. Even Mattis knows to be polite before you plan to kill everyone you meet. If politeness is good enough for Chaos, it's good enough for you.

  • Finally, recognize when driving conditions have changed. When the conditions shift, you should too.


This seems really basic, and it isn't cool-guy stuff. As with all tasks we discuss, at the core of proficiency is an absolute mastery of the basics. Relating this back to guns for a second, what do you think of that person who's waving their firearm around without regard for the muzzle? How about the ones who instinctively put their finger on the trigger during routine handling?

Those bad habits are taboo for a reason; they're the face of negligence and they get people hurt. Having discipline behind the wheel and doing it right shows anyone who rides with you that they’re in good hands, and trust is a reliable predictor of efficacy.

If you can’t manage this, the last thing you need to worry about is gun-fighting around vehicles.

Mobility and Space Management

When in a vehicle, out mobility is our greatest asset. However, most driving situations make it a very linear, binary process; you’re either stopped or moving, and our movement is generally straight. Because of this, we get accustomed to not thinking about how the traffic circumstances affect our ability to remain mobile. For example:

  1. Do you leave a car’s length between you and the next vehicle when you stop at a light?
  2. What’s your vehicles turn radius? How much space do you need to turn around?
  3. If you needed to get off the road, could you?
  4. If you found yourself suspended after a rollover accident, could you safely free yourself?
  5. Do you have a vehicle First Aid Kit secured somewhere that it can be accessed quickly, regardless of the vehicles orientation?

As we discussed in Spheres of Violence, sometimes we are selected without knowledge or consent. This is social, interpersonal violence in most cases. It’s easier to chill, apologize to the other driver, and think about it at home than it is to apologize to the deceased family while the judge mulls over your sentence.

If you’re mobile, it’s very hard to make a case that you were in legitimate fear for your life. With that acknowledged, sometimes you get pulled into someone else’s irrationality.

We need to have a plan for that.

Exit Protocol

If you *do* lose mobility (disabled vehicle, riots/protests, etc), it pays to have a stepwise protocol that you can practice, that works in a variety of situations. The first things to go under stress are judgment and fine motor skills, so the Exit Protocol gives something we can practice:

  1. Angle the vehicle to give yourself the maximum distance, concealment, and ‘cover’ (cars are never cover, but the axle, engine block and T-pillar are better than nothing). You'll hear people refer to the "mags" as cover. Magnesium wheels on cars haven't been a thing since the late 60's. So don't listen to someone who says "get behind the mags". It's McOperator nonsense.
  2. Shift your posture and straighten your right leg against the floor, and left against the door and push. If you're driving a manual, this can be absolutely critical!
  3. Put the car in park, and;
  4. Remove your seatbelt. This needs to be a slow, deliberate motion. If you get nervous and tug at the seatbelt, it will bind. This occurs both at the buckle and the locking retractors. Practice it. Under stress, it's more difficult than it sounds.
  5. Shift your posture so you’re braced with one foot on the brake and the other on the door. Steps 2-5 happen almost simultaneously.
  6. CHECK YOUR SURROUNDINGS! Think in terms of a threat scan; look 360 degrees. If you're in an urban environment, check your 540 bubble (surrounding/overhead environment). Don't just jump out of your car into traffic.
  7. From this position, you can swing the door open and egress, or pin the door with your foot... this can provide a decent platform to draw and fire from that doesn’t involve shooting through glass. You can also quickly reverse the process if an opportunity to regain mobility presents itself.

This protocol isn’t just for altercations. It’s helpful when responding to, or having been in a wreck. From this posture, we give ourselves time and distance to observe, orient, decide, and act.

Conflict around Vehicles

On this topic, we're going to tell you up front: Most of what tactical schools are teaching is not useful for the vast majority of people.

Seriously. Training to shoot through windows, or throw yourself on the ground and shoot under the car is dangerously out of context for most vehicle based conflict, and not a day goes by that some school doesn't post 'cool guy' videos shooting out windows.

These techniques impair your mobility and leave you at the ambush site with glass shards in your now watering eyes. Bullets tend to skip along a straight line, as well, so you have a greater risk of ricochets laying on the ground.

A car is a great big area target, and if you're trapped in it, your first priority shouldn't be "do something that keeps me here longer". Never mind the fact that unless you're in Baghdad you've got, as Tom Given says, "liability attached to every bullet." Going to guns while in vehicles is an utter and absolute last resort.

The reason we say that most of these classes are teaching irrelevant skills is:

  1. They are teaching for extremely unlikely, liability-laden scenarios.
  2. They typically ignore the common threats; carjacking, roadrage, and only pay lip service to staying mobile.
  3. Often, they don't take into account unarmed occupants of the vehicles, or their safety.
  4. They ignore the transitional environment, and the dangers/tactics associated with it.
  5. They're from the perspective of the military training environment, which is not applicable to the civilian world.

General Considerations

Since we're discussing the basics here, let's make a list of things to help narrow the decision tree if you're faced with a threat in your vehicle:

  1. If someone is giving you trouble in traffic, don't drive home. It's probably obvious, but take them on a ride to the local PD. If they have a problem they want to address, let them do it in front of a building full of police officers.
  2. In the case that you do have to stop, keep your car on (but in park if you intend to move!), but be ready to get out at a moments notice. If the other guy stops and gets out, get out of there if you can.
  3. If you do take fire, *escape first!* We can't afford to pay lip service to this. Cars don't provide cover (they don't stop bullets), and many of us have families with us. Your first priority is getting out of the path of the bullets.
  4. If you can't drive because your vehicle has been disabled, get out and get to cover immediately. Return fire from there, if you can/there is no other choice. If you have others in your car who are vulnerable, distract whoever is shooting by any means necessary... especially if it's your children or unarmed passengers.
  5. Keeping a gap allows you to maneuver a bit if someone tries to confront you while you're stopped. Leave yourself some room to maneuver.
  6. Check your 540° bubble any time your stop or resume movement. Scan behind you and overhead if applicable. The first step in making good decisions is having awareness whether driving or moving on foot.
  7. Keep your seatbelt on and your gun in your holster until you're stopped. Momentum is a powerful thing, especially if you're in a collision or accident. It doesn't take much speed to leave your teeth in the steering wheel.
  8. Your car is not a holster. Don't leave your gun in the car. If you're in an altercation, don't return to your car for your gun. Get out of there.

Final Thoughts

Having been in several very serious vehicle-based altercations while deployed, working as a Military Police Officer and with executive protection professionals, as well as being in a few serious accidents, these are some reoccurring takeaways:

  • Be a good driver, and don't piss people off.
  • Your mobility is your lifeline; don't let someone take it from you.
  • If your vehicle is disabled or stalled, use the exit protocol and get to a point where the threat has to move and change directions to get to you. If it's not a human threat, exit and help others as quickly as you're able. Time is your enemy, and this is a classic Type I emergency!
  • Keep in mind that in accidents, your usual means of entry and exit from your vehicle may not be an option. You may have to climb out, or manage getting out of a buckle upside down or on the vehicles side. A rescue hook is valuable if you have others who you may have to extract quickly. A medical kit that can be grabbed quickly from any orientation is wise to have.

This stuff seems basic, but the *vast* majority of vehicle based altercations can be solved by applying these principles and techniques. We will discuss more advanced topics in driving in future articles.

Be safe, be dangerous, and do good things.

Cheers, ISG Team

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