It happens to everyone. You’ve got a meeting, a dinner invitation, a date. And at some point, you have to park your car and exit it — then return to it. Possibly in the dark, possibly in the wee hours of the morning, possibly alone.
This can be intimidating, especially in a city, and especially for a woman. But contrary to the “walk fast and pray” mentality, there are things you can do to keep yourself — and your vehicle — safe. While these tips might not deter the most determined bad guys, they’ll still help keep you safe.
Park In A Populated Area
The biggest deterrent to crooks? Witnesses. According to The Atlantic, crime increases sharply as population density changes from suburban to urban. But beyond that, “high traffic areas are generally much safer than low-traffic areas … the more people walking through your neighborhood, the riskier assault becomes for the assaulter.” So it might be worth circling the block, paying premium prices, or dropping more cash for a pricey hotel lot than it will be to save money and park on a side street.
Don’t Mess Around
Walk to your car purposefully, head held high, back straight, aware of your surroundings — basically, look like someone who’s confident they can take whatever comes at them. Hold your keys in your hand so you won’t be fumbling in your pocket or purse. And speaking of that purse, hold it tight to your person, up on your shoulder, not in your hand, and preferably across your body.
Watch Out For Other Cars
This seems elementary, but there are other cars in lots and parking spaces, and those drivers may be doing any number of things in addition to piloting a vehicle. These include, according to the National Safety Council, programming GPS systems (63 percent said they would do this while driving through a parking lot), texting (56 percent), using social media (52 percent), sending or receiving emails (50 percent), and taking photos or watching videos (49 percent). These practices result, they say, in thousands of broken bones — and worse. Make sure cars aren’t backing up, that you aren’t in their lanes, and generally be aware of the sudden and unexpected movements of vehicles.
Park Where There Are Lights — And Especially Cameras
Criminals don’t like people to see what they’re doing, which means that a well-lit area is always preferable to a dim, dark one where you may not see them coming. But best of all is a place with surveillance cameras. The National Safety Council also recommends picking somewhere that “video surveillance is used to monitor the facility.” In fact, according to TCTechSystems, “It’s estimated that incidents of crime have dropped over 50 percent in parking lots where security systems have been installed. When a thief, vandal or other potential criminal sees a camera, they’re likely to avoid carrying out their crime.”
What About My Cell Phone?
Some people like to phone a friend while they walk through a sketchy area alone, after dark. It seems counterintuitive — after all, the friend would know if they were attacked and could call 911 — but this isn’t the best move. Cell phone chatter just serves to distract you from your surroundings, which you need to be watching at all times. Your phone also shows a would-be thief you have money. Instead, palm your phone in the opposite hand from your keys, have it charged, and be ready to call 911 if needed. An iPhone will easily and quickly dial an emergency number for you — directions found here.
Get In And Lock Up
As soon as you have that car unlocked, get right inside, and lock up again. Don’t give anyone a chance to catch you with the car running and the doors open. Leave the car windows up until you’re safely on the road, even if it’s a hot summer night.
[If you’re outside often for exercise, check out our Security Tips For Runners.]
Hide Your Valuables
This should be obvious, but you’d be shocked how many people leave expensive cell phones, laptops, and shopping bags on their car seats — even designer purses. Considering that thieves will break into your car for some spare change, you need to be more careful. If you can’t take it with you, slip it under a seat or hide it in the trunk.
Go In Numbers
Certainly, people are assaulted, robbed, or carjacked while in groups. However, the odds of that happening are much lower — everyone agrees that a lone woman, or a lone elderly person, makes a much weaker and hence more attractive target. Ask a friend to walk with you. Ask a restaurant or hotel employee to walk you. Call an Uber. But your odds of assault decrease greatly if you’re accompanied to your car by a friendly face. And when you reach the car, do the nice thing: offer to drive them back to where they came from.