Being Followed? Here’s How to Lose a Tail

You don’t need the fastest car or the best driving skills.

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There you are, innocent as can be, sipping your dark roast peacefully while driving to work on a Monday morning. Then, some jerk decides to ruin your day by nearly sideswiping you in his late model Pontiac Fiero on his reckless way to who knows where — the local casino? You honk, he flips the bird, foams at the mouth and slams on his brakes. You don’t lose your cool, rationalizing that he’s likely several notches down on the cranial food chain, and he’s simply upset and will calm down. But, a minute later, Cro-Magnon’s still a few cars behind you. It’s too late.

He’s got it in for you — and you have your eyes on him. He’s darting in and out of lanes. You’re not completely sure if he’s decided to continue the chase or if he’s just that way all the time, everywhere. If he is tailing you, out to do some harm, then you’ve got to have presence of mind and make some simple but very important decisions as to how to handle the situation. You automatically rule out going mano a mano since he might A) have a firearm; B) have a knife; C) have a bat; D) have nothing to lose; or E) all of the above. So you decide to put some distance between you and him — the wisest thing you’ve decided today since going with the dark roast. Here’s how to lose him for good.

1Remain Calm and Assess. It’s not about how fast your car is or even about your driving skills. It’s about using your brains. Whatever you do, don’t panic. First, the potential assailant might not have the attention span to keep after you. The ideal situation is he loses interest and goes on his merry way. Keep on eye on him while you also pay attention to what you’re doing around the other drivers. If he turns off your route, chances are you no longer have to worry. Or, if he’s still following, don’t proceed all the way to your destination. Instead, proceed to Step 2.

2Let Him Know You Know. If you’re convinced he’s following you after numerous turns and he never seems to pass you, then make sure he knows you’re paying attention. Rather than stopping and confronting, maintain your speed and write down his license plate number or take a photo of his plates and car, if you get a chance. Make sure he sees you make eye contact and sees what you’re doing. That alone might scare him off.

3Don’t Go It Alone. Crime is all about opportunity, so don’t give the guy the chance. If you’re not already on a highway (where there are no stops unless there’s gridlock), try to get to one and keep speed with the flow of traffic, no faster and definitely no slower. The fewer opportunities your tail has to do harm, the better. If you can’t get to a highway, stay on populated roads and by all means avoid ending up on a street alone with the guy. Also, in the unfortunate situation where you have car trouble, you can pull into a service station instead of making yourself a target on deserted streets.

4Get Out of Sight. Without getting to nutty speeds (you’re not being chased by Robert De Niro and Jean Reno in a Mercedes with a rocket launcher, a la Ronin), deftly weave through traffic and use larger vehicles like big rigs, box trucks and full-sized SUVs to place a visual barrier between you and your tail. If you’re going faster or slower than the flow of traffic, you’re easier to spot. If done properly, which entails not staying in one spot for too long, you hide behind a truck and then at the right moment, you can pull off at an intersection or exit without your tail seeing you. By the time he figures out you’re not there anymore, he’ll likely never find you.

5Shoot the Gap. If this term is unfamiliar to you, don’t worry. It’s not a common practice except by those who like to circumvent everyday traffic laws because they don’t want to wait. If you’re the first car in a left-hand turn lane, and there’s no green arrow, gun the light as soon as it changes to green, so your tail gets trapped behind oncoming traffic. It’s a move he likely won’t suspect, but do it right the first time or he’ll be onto you the second time around. If you’re able to put cars between you on your first try, get off that road as soon as you can in case there were only a handful of cars to block him.

6Call In the Fuzz. There’s no place in the process of attempting to lose your tail that you can’t invoke the power of law enforcement, but do it properly and pay attention to detail so you can provide the right information. While keeping an eye on your tail, dial 911 and let them know you’re being followed by someone who might want to do you harm. Give them your location (including street, cross street and direction of travel), even if the police can hone in on your location via your mobile phone. Give them the make, model and color of both your car and the pursuit vehicle, as well as a license plate number of your tail if you have that information. If you can’t tell car models from loaves of bread, then give unique descriptions like bumper stickers, window tinting, etc. As the police are en route, try not to deviate from your direction and route of travel and maintain speed if you can. If your tail sees the cavalry coming, he might drop off quickly. If he’s stupid, it’ll just be bad news for him.

At the end of the day, it’s about staying calm and being smart. The last thing you want to do is confront the individual (even if it’s that gorgeous-but-psychotic ex) or get into a chase where you could hurt yourself or others. You don’t have to have the fastest car, and it will actually help you if your car is common, so you’ll blend it with traffic. More than anything else, though, survival, whether it’s on foot or on four wheels, is all about keeping your head clear and being calmer than the guy who wants to put a hurtin’ on you.

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