How to Drive Through a High-Risk Environment

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how performance driving skills can increase survivability on the highways and interstates of America and elsewhere in the world.

Considering all the things that can go wrong on the roadways and all the surprises you’ll have to deal with, knowing how to handle your vehicle at speed while reacting quickly and correctly to an emergency is a vital part of everyday preparedness.

That is all fine and good, but there is an entirely different set of driving skills needed to keep you safe when you’re driving in environments that are far more dangerous than rush hour traffic on a congested interstate.

If you are driving in a really bad part of town, in a hostile foreign land or just down Main Street USA in a without-rule-of-law situation you’ll need to know how to handle yourself and your vehicle in a proper high-risk environment.

Driving in or through a dangerous environment requires a change in mindset and a new set of skills for dealing with problems that might pop up.

If you have learned how to negotiate typical roadway hazards and accidents maneuvering your vehicle near the extremes of its capability, the next logical step to grow your driving skills as a prepper is mastering vehicular operations in high risk environments.

In today’s article, we’ll be giving you a primer on how to do that.

Table of Contents

High-Risk Environment Hazards

The hazards you encounter in a high risk driving environment are not the same as those you encounter in a typical, everyday driving environment although they may overlap to a degree.

In a normal driving environment you’re worried about dodging accidents, avoiding debris and missing people on the roadways while leaving yourself maneuvering room to get out of a tight spot if you think you might be struck by another vehicle.

Knowing how to handle your vehicle at extremes- breaking, acceleration and steering- is essential.

Things will certainly be a little more interesting in a high-risk environment, where high-risk environments, carjacking, ambush and deliberate ramming attacks may all be common occurrences.

A high-risk environment is one where if you have to stop for any reason, or worse yet become immobilized, the threat of being attacked directly is very real.

Significant threats may be people on-foot, vehicle-borne or even environmentally based. Static and rolling roadblocks are not out of the question. If you react too slowly or incorrectly you may be killed.

This is not to say you won’t have to dodge accidents, debris and other jack-in-the-box types of surprises- you may certainly have to.

The only difference is now you might have to do so while you’re being shot at or facing someone trying to rip you out of your vehicle.

The stakes are high and there will be no margin for error in a high-risk driving environment, especially if you have VIPs with you. For most preppers, there are no people more important than their families.

It will be up to you to stay alert, see the threat coming and then react with haste if you want to survive. In the following sections, we’ll be breaking down the various threats as well as how you should react to them.

Is Driving in a High-Risk Environment just Defensive Driving?

Not exactly, though defensive driving does form the basis of effective driving in a high-risk environment. The strict definition of defensive driving skills mentions those intended to save lives, money and time despite the present roadway and traffic conditions around you.

Defensive driving is intended to reduce the risk of collisions through anticipation of threats and other dangerous conditions. Chances are you’ve heard defensive driving colloquially referred to as driving as if everyone else on the road was an idiot, high or drunk. They aren’t wrong.

In general, defensive driving principles entail being alert and distraction-free at all times, looking ahead down the road way in anticipation of spotting a problem before you get to it, controlling your speed and maintaining awareness of other drivers as well as pedestrians actions and potential reactions.

Defensive driving also emphasizes leaving a gap and maintaining safe following distances while underway (both important fundamentals for driving in high-risk environments) As well as carefully regulating your speed and approach before and during a turn. 

Where high-risk environment driving departs from defensive driving is that you may have to break an awful lot of “rules of the road” if you want to survive a close shave in a dangerous environment.

That being said, you should learn your driving skills in a crawl walk run arrangement. If you have no defensive or performance driving training, you should start there before taking a high-risk driving skills course.

Maintaining the Right Mindset

Chances are if you are not new to prepping you are already very familiar with the idea of keeping a tactical mindset going at all times.

Whether you call it condition yellow or some other defensively-minded buzzword, the idea is the same: you need to have a relaxed state of awareness switched on at all times and actively be looking for the next thing coming down the turnpike that can hurt you.

Failure to do so, let’s say by getting embroiled with something on your phone, fiddling with the radio or talking to a passenger, will create gaps in your awareness that can lead to a crash or serve as an opening for an aggressor to act.

At the minimum, you need to keep your head up and your eyes moving. You should be taking in everything around you as if you are the agent-in-charge of a protection detail and your entire detail is contained inside your vehicle.

Treat it like your own rolling embassy; you cannot afford to let any harm come to it or the people inside it.

What should you be paying attention to? Obviously you’ll need to be paying attention to the road ahead, the vehicles all around you and especially anything that may be coming up behind you.

Let’s face it; you are still far more likely to be involved in a collision or crash than to be attacked, even in a high-risk environment. The swiftest way to achieve a negative outcome is to wreck your vehicle or get it stuck. Pay attention!

You also need to be paying attention to the people that are around you when traveling at lower speeds as well as the terrain and any possible obstructions.

Unlike driving in a normal environment, driving in a high-risk environment means you might be subjected to fixed or mobile roadblocks. This could be a large vehicle driven out in front of you to block an intersection or cut off an escape route.

It could be an improvised, fixed roadblock similarly made from vehicles, traffic barriers and potentially mounds of burning tires or other debris.

In short, you need to handle your vehicle and yourself as if a threat could appear from anywhere, at any time. Simultaneously, you need to be driving so you can mitigate entirely the most common threats. We will get into your standard operating procedures just below.

High-Risk Environment Procedures and Concepts

Doors Locked, Period!

If this sounds elementary, it is because it is, but I am astounded at the amount of preppers I talk to who still drive around with their doors unlocked.

No, not every car has an automatic door lock feature after a certain speed is reached.

Regardless, as soon as you get in the car the very first thing you should do, before you put the keys in the ignition, before you fasten your seatbelt, before you tune the radio to that terrible bubblegum pop station you love so much is lock the damn doors!

Your car is not a fortress and you shouldn’t treat it like one but it is also harder to get into in a hurry than most people think.

The time that it takes an attacker to try your door handle or attempt to bust a window out could be all the time you need to identify and exploit escape routes or employ defensive maneuvers with your vehicle. It buys you time, and time is one thing that you typically cannot get more of in a confrontation.

Keep your doors locked at all times while in a vehicle, no exceptions!

Sitting Still is Certain Death

Any vehicle that is sitting still is deprived of its chief advantage, both on defense and offense: mobility. A moving vehicle can still be targeted by weapons fire, but it is much harder to hit and furthermore hit accurately at any range.

A vehicle in motion makes it virtually impossible to extract the occupants from it until the vehicle is halted, that means you’ll be safe from carjack and kidnap attempts until you stop or are stopped.

A motor vehicle of any size affords you a major weapon and that is mass. Take the immense mass of a vehicle and move it at a high rate of speed and you are now generating extreme power.

From the heaviest up-armored Suburban or Excursion down to the wimpiest electric Prius, the weight of a vehicle must never be underestimated and can solve problems all by itself.

But that weight counts for very little if the vehicle is not in motion. All of the tools that a vehicle furnishes are only available if you are moving. Sitting still is to be avoided at all costs.

Movement is Life

This is the biggest fundamental change to your operating procedures when driving in a high-risk environment compared to driving in a normal one. If at all possible you must keep moving when in a high-risk environment.

If you stop, you drastically increase the chances that someone may make an attempt on the vehicle itself or tee off on you in an ambush. Even slow rolling along at 10 miles an hour is light years better than stopping.

Does this mean you should blow through stop signs and stop lights in a dangerous environment? Abso-freakin’-lutely it does. Isn’t that illegal?

Yes, yes it is, and that is why you should only do it when you are truly in a risky situation, one where you’re convinced that stopping will drastically increase the threat to your life and limb or those of your passengers.

If you sit still in a high-risk environment it is just asking for something bad to happen to you. You must keep your vehicle moving at all costs until you clear the danger zone.

If at any time you are forced to come to a stop, you must set yourself up for success and leave some kind of way for you to get moving again as quickly as possible.

If you cannot do that, either by circumstances or by design, you can rest assured that an attack will probably be imminent, or at least more likely to occur.

Leave a Gap

It is even more vital that you leave space between you and all the vehicles around you in a high-risk environment compared to driving in a lower threat environment.

While powerful vehicles can barge their way through obstructions and push intervening vehicles out of the way, this does take time and prevents you from reaching a high rate of speed quickly. Make sure you stop well short of vehicles ahead of you.

You also need to pay more attention to what the vehicles around you are doing.

Don’t underestimate your possible attackers: many of them will be far more experienced at this than you will be, and much more comfortable using violence working in tandem with one another across multiple vehicles to do it.

One common tactic is two teams of attackers employing vehicles both ahead of and behind the target car to wedge it in place or prevent an easy Escape. More advanced attackers may use four or even more vehicles to completely box in the target car.

Compared to just driving around in traffic, the cars around you may have more to do with this than normal. Keeping space between you and other vehicles is not just a matter of stopping short enough.

You may very well notice other vehicles creeping in closer. A black pickup and the white SUV that have been in your rearview mirror for several blocks are now closing in, while the red sedan immediately behind you inches ever closer to your bumper…

If you notice vehicles maneuvering that seem a little too coordinated with others in your immediate vicinity, this is an immediate red flag and danger signal. You need to act immediately to keep from being boxed in and immobilized.

Counter-Ambush and Counter-Carjack Techniques and Tactics

In high-risk environments you are typically worried about being swarmed and overwhelmed while the vehicle is sitting still or being lit up by gunfire after driving into an ambush point.

Either outcome is bad news, though generally a proper ambush is far more lethal and more difficult to surmount. At any rate there are tactics to apply equally well to both of them, beyond the basic procedures we have outlined above.

Defeat Problems Before They Appear

This sounds like some weird Eastern mysticism but it’s really not. It fits in more with the idea of having the right mindset as detailed above. You have to be thinking three steps ahead in this game.

You must anticipate threats- what form they will take, where they will come from, how you will get away from them- so you aren’t sitting there stunned when they do actually show themselves.

Things will happen fast. If you need to think about where you are going and how you are going to maneuver the vehicle to get there in order to get away, you may already be lost.

But if you are already mentally rehearsing what form the threat will take, how you’ll react to it and how you will swiftly and smoothly maneuver to distance yourself from it that is very likely how you will perform in the event it does occur.

Defeating a problem in a high-risk environment before it appears will happen as a result of correct training, dedicated practice, ongoing visualization and deliberate focus and presence on the situation at hand.

If you’re driving along spaced out, thinking about how tired you are, thinking about when the job is going to be over, what a bitch or bastard your significant other is, or how annoying the radio stations are in this town…

… well in these cases you will miss pre-attack indicators that might have given you a little more time to prepare your defense or countermeasures, and you’ll be flat-footed when the attack actually happens.

That is something you simply cannot afford. If you are driving, be 100% focused on driving in the environment that you are in; everything that entails at all times. Nothing else will suffice.

Constantly be Plotting Alternate Routes and Lanes

If you are driving in a high-risk environment part of your second-to-second procedures should be plotting alternate routes at pretty much all times.

Let’s say you are slow rolling along keeping pace with traffic that is starting to back up when all of a sudden a pair of heavy industrial trucks pull nose-to-nose in the intersection ahead of you, blocking it entirely.

Ambush or simply a roadblock and bad timing, you have a major problem. You have to keep moving. What will you do?

Let’s go through it. On your right is a sidewalk that is definitely wide enough for you to drive down. Your SUV can easily hop the small curb and then you can race down to the intersection turning the corner and dodging the roadblock.

If you have space and opportunity you could pull a snap u-turn to the left and speed away with the rapidly dwindling traffic on the opposite side of the road. If you were one of the trailing vehicles in the traffic flow and have room behind you could reverse out (more on that later).

The point of all this conjecture is that your route of travel is not just limited to pavement and specifically not just limited to the side of the road you are on. Sidewalks, shoulders, fields, medians, many fences and more can all be easily surmounted by almost any vehicle and used for transit.

Now, dealing with those obstacles and furthermore dealing with pedestrians that may be occupying those spaces is another can of worms, but the point is it you must be mentally rehearsing those maneuvers now.

If it has never been an option for you to take your car up onto the sidewalk and drive down it at speed you probably won’t do it in a crisis.

Hopping Curbs and Other Obstacles

Chances are you have probably considered hopping a curb before at one point or another but what you might not have considered is how best to hop a curb or other low obstacle in your vehicle.

Most motor vehicles are both surprisingly difficult and surprisingly easy to stop depending upon the obstacle and the circumstances.

A massive truck with an upgraded engine may easily rip up the foundations of the earth if it had a long enough chain but can just as easily find itself completely mired in a mud bog or even soft sand. Vehicles seem to be a study in contrasts that way.

While almost any vehicle can hop a low curb or even many common parking lot dividers how you approach it and cross it makes a difference if you want to prevent damage to your wheels and tires.

If at all possible don’t drive into one of these low, linear obstacles head-on and definitely don’t do that when travelling at high speed. Instead you should ideally be crossing it at about a 35 to 45 degree angle.

This will ensure you have more tires in contact with the ground at once and help you maintain control while you are crossing. It is also less damaging on wheels and tires that are not hardened for such abuse.

Also consider that many obstacles that would traditionally be viewed as impassable will pose very little obstruction to most vehicles when push comes to shove

All but the heaviest fences, lift gates and more that are only there to incentivize drivers to stop so they do not damage or mar their vehicle’s finish will do less than nothing to actually impede a vehicle’s progress, especially when it is striking them at speed.

Again, it is imperative that you start now in order to successfully reprogram yourself to the new paradigm of what your vehicle can actually do and where it can actually go, laws and normal traffic procedures be damned.

Reverse Out

If there is one particular vehicle skill that is chronically underutilized and under practiced by drivers in standard and high-risk environments alike it is the ability to drive in reverse under control and at a good clip.

When you are considering almost any personal threat posed by other human beings, your chances of survival go up proportionately with how much distance you can put between them and yourself.

If you have a clear route, many times in a high-risk environment the correct answer is simply throwing the car in reverse and backing away from danger as quickly as possible.

But as anyone who has driven in reverse at any kind of speed will tell you, as will legions of forklift drivers, suddenly having “rear” wheel steering will make your vehicle a very twitchy thing to handle, one where the most minute steering inputs can lead to huge changes in your heading.

The jerkiness and twitchiness of a vehicle traveling in reverse is amplified the more you pour on the speed and it is a very easy thing to lose control if you are not careful.

Nonetheless, it is entirely possible to become very adept at driving in reverse safely and under control. And you don’t need to pull off some YouTube worthy stunts like driving a road course backwards or doing a NASCAR style time trial in reverse to make use of this skill in real life.

If you back away from something at just 20 miles an hour within seconds you will have put hundreds and hundreds of feet between you and the threat if they are on foot. Think about that.

Also, compared to other specialized maneuvers used to quickly reverse direction you don’t need to do anything like that to back away if you just put the vehicle in reverse.

It is a very quick thing to bring the car to a stop, shift into reverse gear, and then apply the accelerator to start heading the other direction.

Rubbing, Scraping, Pushing

If you are operating in a high-risk environment one of the last things you should be worried about is the physical appearance and condition of your vehicle’s body work and paint.

Go on and get that out of your system early because chances are you are going to have reason to be digging it, denting it and scraping the hell out of it.

If it is blowing past one of the aforementioned obstacles, pushing another vehicle out of the way, or just grinding down a concrete wall as you squeeze between two closely spaced buildings, you will have plenty of opportunities to grind some fresh shiny spots on your ride. As they say in racing you’ll be trading paint on the regular.

Evasion is the most typical reason why you need to make close contact with another vehicle or object, but you may also need to push another vehicle out of the way if you are left with no easy way out when it’s time to make your getaway.

In an extreme you may need to ram another vehicle to defend yourself or to blow through an improvised roadblock. No matter how much you may like it ultimately your vehicle is just another tool in your arsenal that you should use to keep you and your family safe.

If you need to push another vehicle out of the way, the best way to do it is by gently making contact with it and then slowly, steadily applying the throttle.

Slamming into a vehicle at any kind of speed, even surprisingly low speeds, is not a good idea with almost any vehicle but especially bad with modern ones. Your chances of setting off the airbags and activating the engine kill mechanism are very high.

Those things are great for protection after a mundane accident, but in a situation where you need to twist some metal in order to then make your getaway it could be a death sentence.

If you need to bust through an improvised road block consisting of the classic arrangement of two cars parked nose-to-nose, you should not aim for the gap where the cars hoods meet.

The idea the roadblockers surely have is that you will in fact aim for this most obvious gap with the hope of pivoting both cars out of the way at once, but it is a trap!

The engines are the heaviest part of any given car and striking two of them at once is certain to severely damage your vehicle and probably stop you cold.

Even if it doesn’t stop you, your vehicle will likely have sustained enough damage where it is not going to go far after that.

What’s the solution? Aim for the back end of either vehicle, just behind the rear axle. This lighter end of the vehicle will easily pivot around the heavier front end especially when the car is in park, allowing you to blow past it with comparative ease.

Also, even if you’re able to hit this lighter end don’t hit it too fast. Hitting absolutely anything at 45, 50 or 60 miles an hour-plus is certain to inflict catastrophic damage to your vehicle and you are very likely to lose control and be injured on impact.

All that is needed is to strike the vehicle at about 25 to 30 miles an hour and maintain your speed while doing it.

This means you may need to increase throttle when you make contact to keep your momentum up. Be prepared to smoothly correct on impact so you don’t lose control.

Malcontent Mow-Down

I’m continually surprised and more than a little saddened whenever I see recorded footage of someone being attacked in their vehicle with clear space all around them to maneuver.

Most times, I’ll see someone have their vehicle getting beat to pieces or even facing a serious bodily threat to themselves and others in the vehicle before they snap out of it and gingerly pull away from the antagonist.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and it definitely shouldn’t be that way in a high-risk environment.

I’ll leave you to run the math, but you can take my word for it when I tell you that the average vehicle, weighing several thousand pounds and easily capable of attaining speeds over 80 miles an hour, can generate immense power.

Don’t even get me started on the torque that a motor vehicle can produce. It is one thing for a human being to hold another person in place, but holding a vehicle in place..? You can forget about that!

Hilariously, every once in a while you’ll see people try in close contact situations. It’s like, yeah, sorry buddy; you leaning into that Tahoe isn’t going to make a damn lick of difference.

All joking and horseplay aside, do not forget that a vehicle is a tremendously powerful weapon in itself. This is one escape pod that the bad guys don’t want to be in the way of when you decide you’re ready to get out of the situation.

If your vehicle is surrounded or you just have one or two attackers directly ahead of you, behind you or on the sides, make it a point to just drive away as fast as you can safely do so in order to escape danger. If someone is in the way, tough break for them.

Remember: if you are facing a lethal threat you are morally justified in responding with lethal force of your own. Now, local and jurisdictional law may be another matter…

In short, run those suckers down! I don’t say this lightly: your best option is always escape if you have a vehicle at your disposal. It is simply the bad guys’ misfortune that they got in the way of your vehicle-borne escape and they regrettably paid the piper for their evil deeds.

This is another eventuality you should prepare for, as with all the other unconventional driving techniques I’ve mentioned in this article so far.

If you have never considered what it will be like to run over another human being on purpose, that is a conversation you need to have it yourself and a scenario you need to start working through in as many permutations as you can. You may very well have to when driving in a high-risk environment.

Additional Concerns

All of the above procedures and techniques are the sort of the nuts and bolts of driving and operating a vehicle in a high-risk environment. But as you might expect there’s an awful lot more to consider than just those few techniques.

There’s way too much to get into here, and furthermore it is a lot more than you could hope to learn from a simple article on the internet.

That being said, in the interest of giving you a well-rounded primer on the subject below are a couple of additional concerns you should keep in mind when setting out to improve your driving skills.

What about Special Maneuvers?

A common fixture in high-risk driving is the emphasis on specialized maneuvers. J-turns, bootleggers and other flashy, unconventional ways to move and turn the vehicle are certainly effective, but come with a lot of caveats.

These maneuvers take a considerable amount of practice and intimate familiarity with a given vehicle to pull off successfully.

The driver has to pay full attention to his vehicle’s positioning, the amount of room he has to pull off the maneuver, his speed and a host of other factors to execute them correctly. If he botches them, he may lose control or even come to a stop.

Plainly stated, these are not maneuvers you should attempt if you don’t have the prerequisite skills and tons of practice. Most of these maneuvers are better executed by feel than rote memorization of the steps.

If you don’t have them down pat, I mean second nature, they may do more harm than good in a pinch.

No one thinks doing a conventional three-point backup turn is sexy or fast, but if you cannot pull off that picture perfect J-turn on that narrow road you may find yourself immobilized with bad guys closing in.

If you would have instead simply reversed out at a good rate of speed and then, once you had distance, time and opportunity, executed that boring, plain vanilla three point turn you could be heading away from trouble with the quickness.

You should only attempt special maneuvers if you have the training and have put in the practice. Otherwise stick with the forward and reverse gears that you are used to.

Drive or Shoot, Not Both

The idea that you can conduct a rolling shoot out while both driving and returning fire is the stuff of movies and video games and nothing else.

Yes, I am well aware of a few standout examples of police officers and a few military types pulling off both at once successfully, but these are exceptions, not the rule.

You will need total focus and 100% concentration to successfully conduct steering, navigating and keeping your vehicle under control. Trying to return accurate fire while doing all of that is a pipe dream.

If you don’t have someone else in the vehicle that can return fire with personal weapons while you focus on driving, you shouldn’t attempt to return fire at all.

Your ultimate goal so long as your vehicle is still operational should be to break contact and get away at speed. Statistically it is the most effective response, even if you are ambushed. As the saying used to go in the personal security world, “skinny pedal on the right.”

The driver drives, the shooters shoot. The end.

Get Training!

Performance driving for high risk environments is a skillset unto itself. Yes, it is entirely possible for you to go out to the skid pad or out to an empty parking lot and practice maneuvers yourself.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that if you can do so safely without breaking any laws, but even then just learning the maneuvers will not give you the context for when and why you should employ them.

Just like learning to fight with fists and feet, or learning to run a gun you need training to learn how to jockey your vehicle as effectively as possible, both as a defensive tool and an offensive weapon.

The idea that you can set out in your car and negotiate successfully highly complicated, life-threatening events including hostile ambushes or carjack attempts spontaneously without any training is just. ludicrous

This is similar to you magically becoming an expert gunfighter or a deadly hand-to-hand combatant with no training.

You won’t rise to the occasion. You will instead default to your level of training.

Thinking otherwise is the stuff of fantasy and you shouldn’t think that way. In fact, if you do think that way, you will have the rest of your rapidly shortening life to contemplate just how wrong you are should the shit really hit the fan…

You must get training if you want to prevail. There are lots of good schools out there run by teachers with all kinds of experience driving in high-risk environments, both domestically and internationally.

This training is often expensive, and depending on the school may or may not allow you to use your daily driver.

If they do allow you to use your own car, you need to understand right up front that such training is often very hard on cars of all kinds.

Make sure you factor in enhanced follow-on maintenance, replacement tires, replacement brakes, other replacement parts and enhanced risk insurance riders into the cost of going to school.


Driving in high risk environments is considered an apex skill in the tactical driving world.

You must be good enough and intimate enough with your vehicle to handle it in ways that the average driver will never even imagine, much less be called on to perform. The cost of failure in these instances is terrible, and may see you killed or even abducted right out of your vehicle.

No matter if the environment you are preparing for is stateside or in some dusty overseas country, you must have the skills, the know-how and the mindset execute complicated precision maneuvers in your vehicle on demand. Nothing else will do.

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***DISCLAIMER: This article is not to be treated as legal advice. The author is not an attorney. Neither, its principals, owners, operators, contractors or employees, or the author of this article, claim any criminal or civil liability resulting from injury, death or legal action resulting from the correct or incorrect use or misuse of the information contained in this article. Any comprehensive self defense plan will include preparing for the legal aftermath of any self-defense encounter. The reader should hire and consult with a competent attorney as part of your preparations. ***

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