How to Lose A Tailing Car

or: how to lose friends and win State Troopers

DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT recommend you try any of this. It will probably get you killed, or at least arrested and repeatedly violated with a nightstick (deservedly). Remember that police are here to help you; the only reason to lose a tail is to FIND A COP to help you. Plus, they have helicopters and you don't, and there are many more of them (trained to do this) than you.

First of all, forget what you've seen in the movies and on T.V. Even if some of it is usable, remember that no-one in those scenes is driving a real car. They've got safety gear, trick suspensions, and…ta daaaa! disposable cars. Yes, that's right; when Glen Larson and company showed up at the local GM dealership, those crap-suited drones just started salivating; they'd hit the jackpot. Sure, GM gave 'em some for the publicity, but do you have any idea how many Trans Ams Michael Knight really went through? Hint: Boosters don't help the landing at all, and no Trans Am really survives a drop from over six feet at speed with its suspension or underbody intact. Especially not on rutted dirt. Or think: how many Dodge Chargers did the Dukes of Hazzard sent to that big southern hoedown in the sky? Well, let's just say they wasn't worried about no factory finish. It's easier than you think.

Anyhow. So let's say you're being tailed. Who knows why. We will, however, assume that they wish to do you harm. This is important, because your goal, then, is to find a cop. This means that we can do all sorts of stuff that will draw them to you like flies on a donut, like, say, speed.

Okay. Let's take the night case. It's less likely someone is going to tail you with the intent of doing you harm in broad daylight, especially with lots of folks around. My favorite example is being followed out of a club by people you had a shoving match with who seem to want to get in their car and look at you rather than continue shoving you. This typically means weapon, and your job is to get the hell out of there.

ASSUMPTIONS TO MAKE FIRST!

I know, this may not all be true. But it can't hurt, and might save your ass. So. Rule 1: Forget everything you've seen about stomping the accelerator, peeling tires and heading off into the night. You might need that tire rubber later; it lets the people in the car watching you know they've been spotted, and it advertises how poor a driver you are. It's wasteful.

Instead, the first thing you do is put on your seat belts. This, too, may save your ass. Try to look normal doing it. Lock the doors of the car. Do you have a cell phone? USE IT! Try to be surreptitious; if you have a hands-free, so much the better. CALL THE COPS. Start the engine like you normally would. Pull away normally, and watch. If they pull away after you, keep cool; if they wanted to kill you right there they would've done it before you got in the car. They want a highway or deserted area. If they aren't making any overt moves, once you've called the police and told them where you are and what's going on, stay there and wait for them. Only start driving if your would-be assailants start moving in on you either in the car or outside it (if outside it, so much the better - they'll have to get back in their car to follow, which means a longer lead).

Turn some corners. Not only does this prove that they're following you, it lets you do the following: open the distance. Whenever they're out of sight, accelerate as much as possible while retaining control. If you have a passenger, have them watch their mirrors and keep you informed about the tail. Don't lean over the seat and look back; not only is it a dead giveaway, but if something happens to the car you're in a really dangerous position. Plus, you might get shot.

Now, as best you can, KNOW WHERE YOU ARE. Knowledge is power. You want to head for the most public, populated and likely-to-be-policed area that you can find, as close as you can find. Is there a mall nearby? There's probably cops around it. A nightspot area? Cops, again. Head there. Find one. Pull up next to them and explain as calmly as possible what's up.

Okay, let's assume there's nowhere close or you don't know the area you're in. Rule 2:Don't get on the highway! If you do, and the opponent continues to tail you, you're easily harmed when in a fast-moving car. Mistakes are much more likely, and much less forgiving. Plus, there won't be witnesses; and unlike on TV, state troopers never show up when you need them. The only exception to this rule is if you know there's a trooper on a speed trap near you; however, this is risky! If he's left to make a stop or get a donut, you're vulnerable. Plus, there's nowhere to go on a highway. The entire purpose of this exercise is to cause the tail to make a wrong choice; and there's no choices on a highway. Cities are good; suburbs are good, and well-lit, peopled and policed areas are the best.

Keep opening the distance and slowing down when they come into view without using brakes. Take the corners at normal speed. Don't risk anything. Save your power for straightaways. Keep doing this until/unless they realize what you're up to and start closing the gap.

Oh yeah. IGNORE RED LIGHTS. Don't stop. Don't hit anyone, but don't stop. If you come to a heavily trafficked cross-street, turn into traffic and continue with the flow. It will be much harder for them to catch you, and if you cause a bit of a snarl doing so, they'll have an even worse time. Ride traffic until they're out of sight, then find a cop.

Let's say there's no trafficked street, and they've figured you out and have started burning to catch up. At this point, the game changes. The primary thing, however, is retaining control of the car. Ever play Car Wars? Remember the Handling Class? Every time you maneuver, it takes you and the car time to restabilize again. Pull too many maneuvers in quick succession, even those which you know you can do with one hand, and you'll lose control of the car. Going into a turn while moving straight is not the same as going into a turn while braking and having just finished correcting a fishtail with your rear tires loose from the road.

So. Your job is to retain control of the car and force your opponents to maneuver, make choices, and take chances. Turn. A lot. The only time this isn't the case is if you have a V8 and they're in a Honda Civic, which likely won't be the case. Otherwise, it's likely they are better suited for power chases (they started this, remember?) Don't use turn signals. Don't use sharp braking; if you must slow down to take a turn suddenly, downshift. Make turns you think you can make safely which have a good chance of having road around them. WATCH FOR DEAD ENDS. Passengers help here.

If possible, turn off your headlights. If you're in an urban or suburban area, there will be streetlights, and it is really hard to see a moving car from another moving car when the target has no lights on. Remember, headlights=taillights, which are designed to be highly visible.

Resist the temptation to turn into a driveway or alley and stay quiet, unless they're REALLY far back but their car is MUCH more powerful. Why? Because your only defense, at this point, is your mobility and distance. Stopping gives up both, and if they spot you, you're screwed.

Rule 3. Always be willing to trade distance for their control. For example, if you turn into a mall parking lot that's empty and lose sight of them but they saw you turn in, if possible pull quickly back up to the entrance and stop. When they come in, take off; they'll have to turn around, and even though you may have lost distance, there's a non-zero chance they'll screw up somehow. If not, you should still be able to gain some space, because after leaving the parking lot your job is to get out of sight of the exit/entrance as fast as possible. It's likely that they won't be able to get back out and see where you went if you duck down the first side street. Sure, they might guess that, but what if there's more than one? What if you go one block down the side street (with no lights, remember) and take another turn, and another, always heading away? Their search area multiplies quickly. In all likelihood, once they have to make more than one 50/50 choice to catch sight of you, you're almost home free; after that, every turn drops their chances into miniscule numbers. Stochastic processes rule here.

Some tips for suburbia. Remember that most suburbs (and cities for that matter) are rough grids. While this means you have lots of choices, it also means it's easy to end up going back the way you came, and one can usually see several blocks up the side streets. Keep heading away, and keep your passenger looking for them down the avenues and streets, but keep turning!

If you have a few seconds out of sight (even if there's nowhere to turn) and you have a passenger, consider dropping them off to call for help. If your car is still moving, and the pursuers don't see the passenger exit, it's likely they'll miss them, leaving one of you safe(r) and able to call the cops. That way, cops in the area will at least be on the lookout for you. Obviously, if the passenger wouldn't be safe, don't do it.

If they begin to gain ground, then try to open distance horizontally. Turn more. If they try to pull up next to you, don't get into a suicidal race where they can simply shove you off the road; wait for a turn on your side, slow as dramatically as possible (downshift) and turn away. They'll have to work to make the turn, especially if you wait for the last minute, and this might work in your favor.

If you do lose sight of them, and they appear to have lost you, keep going and keep turning every now and then. Avoid the temptation to find a main avenue and head for home unless you're right near one, and you last saw your pursuer in the opposite direction from your planned course. Just because you've lost sight, don't pass by a cop; if you see one, pull over and explain the situation. You don't want to have them find you again when you think you're OK.

While these tips WON'T HELP YOU EVADE POLICE, they MIGHT, if used properly, help you evade angry/drunken/violent people who follow you with intent to harm. Remember, police are your friends; if you pull up to a cop, even after pulling some heady maneuvers, and they want to restrain you, let them. Cooperate. Be calm. Let them cuff you, etc. etc., and keep explaining yourself in a level voice. The cop is trying to restrain you because he or she is nervous and operating according to training; they'll be much, much better listeners if you've let them cuff, search and immobilize you without giving them any trouble. They don't want to arrest you, and cuffing doesn't mean arrested, just immobilized. If you explain yourself, are demonstrably not drunk/stoned/crazy, and are rational, the cop will (I can't guarantee, but damn close) check out your story.

Even if it turns out they don't believe you, that's okay. You'll get to see a judge. The cop will tell the judge (or you will) that you were trying to find the cop, not escape, and were cooperative and peaceful. Even if the cop never saw your pursuers, the lack of motive and intent, plus your desire to be with the cop, will go a long way. Even if you get traffic violations, be calm; it's better than getting shot/knifed/beaten/whatever, and think of them as a police protection tax.

I've never tried any of these. Really. I swear. I never get into fights in bars. Ask anyone. Really.

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