Traffic light awareness: keeping you safe behind the wheel - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Keeping it safe & secure behind the wheel

Traffic light awareness: keeping you safe behind the wheel

When coming up to a red light, try to avoid being in the middle lane. (Source: WMC Action News 5) When coming up to a red light, try to avoid being in the middle lane. (Source: WMC Action News 5)
If someone tries to attack you while you're getting into your car, throw your keys on top of the vehicle. (Source: WMC Action News 5) If someone tries to attack you while you're getting into your car, throw your keys on top of the vehicle. (Source: WMC Action News 5)
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -

Traffic safety begins and ends with what former cop and stunt driver Max Maxwell called situational awareness.

"Being aware of your surroundings at all times," said the owner and chief instructor of the Maxwell Driving School in East Memphis.

At any given time on Mid-South streets, we see the worst examples: drivers sitting still at stop lights, nose-deep in their smart phones, flipping through their latest texts, Tweets and e-mails.

It's that very distraction that may have blinded a 20-year-old University of Memphis student to the two men who robbed him as he waited for the light to change at Poplar Avenue and Perkins Road Extended July 21

"They're not paying attention," said WMC Action News 5 Traffic Tracker Janeen Gordon. "They're not aware of their surroundings. Put the phone down!"

That also goes for walking to your parked car from the store, office or house. Pocket the phone. It's a distraction. 

Keep your keys in your hand the moment you start heading for your vehicle, with one of them poking out of your fist. That makes a handy defensive weapon.

If someone tries to rob you as you open your car door, the conventional wisdom used to be to throw your keys as far away as possible. That would presumably prevent the attacker from driving off with you in your own vehicle.

Maxwell said that's a mistake. "If you just throw them as far away as possible, you may just make them mad," he said. "Where they once just wanted your purse or valuables, now they may want to cause bodily harm.

"Instead, throw your keys on top of your car or to the other side of your car. If you're carrying a purse, toss it inside your vehicle. Now the attacker must make a choice between you, your car and your valuables -- and that split-second may give you the opening to escape."

As you escape, Maxwell said do not make eye contact with your attacker.

"If you look at them, you just ID'd them," he said. "They may not want you to identify them, and that may encourage them to hurt you."

To stay safe while in traffic, keep your doors locked. Maintain enough distance from the car in front of you so that you can escape either left or right with just one quarter-turn of the wheel.

"I do that even when I'm in the drive-thru at a fast food restaurant or pharmacy," Gordon said. "Just in case something happens, I can cut away."

While approaching a traffic light, Maxwell said there is one lane -- and one position -- that you should never take. "You never want to be in the middle (lane), second car back," he said. "That locks you in."

Instead, as the light changes, try to move to either the left or right outside lane, first vehicle. Maxwell used the intersection of northbound Germantown Parkway and Macon Road in Cordova, Tennessee, to demonstrate how that technique opens up multiple escape routes.

"If I need to, I can make a U-turn. I can turn right (down Macon Road). If I have to, I can jump the light and go straight (on Germantown Parkway). Or I can turn left. So I have many multiple avenues of escape here."

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