Self-Driving vs. Hiring a Driver — The Pros and Cons

Traffic in Karachi, Pakistan

One of the questions for expatriates and many travelers is whether to hire a local driver or drive themselves.  There are pros and cons associated with both choices and its important to recognize and consider them when making a decision.
This discussion focuses on expatriates and travelers in developing countries where this decision is much more critical and the potential pitfalls of making the wrong choice are much greater.  Let’s look at each option:
 Hiring a Driver:
Pros:

  • The local driver will/should know the geography of the area, can find different locations more readily than you might be able to and will know local traffic patterns at different hours of the day, etc.
  • The local driver will know the driving etiquette in the area and will be less likely to inadvertently cause offense to other drivers, etc.
  • The local driver will know the proper procedure when stopped by the police and will know how to deal with the situation.
  • With a hired driver you are free to focus on situational awareness and detecting possible surveillance or threats in the environment without the distraction of driving in an unfamiliar city, following directions, etc.
  • If you are involved in an accident the driver will generally be the one held responsible and not you.
  • You can assign the driver to guard the car when you are at meetings, etc.  Therefore the car is not left unattended and is not as vulnerable to being tampered with, having items stolen from it or having the vehicle itself stolen.
  • You don’t need to worry about parking the vehicle when you disembark to do other things such as attend meetings, go shopping, etc.  The driver can remain with the vehicle and pick you up when requested.

Cons:

  • You are literally trusting your life to the driver.  A bad or reckless driver can be very dangerous and the driver may not be trained to deal effectively with a security incident should one occur.
  • You give up some independence relying on the driver.  The driver may be tardy, get lost or otherwise compromise your effectiveness.
  • You will have some level of OPSEC risk with the driver.  The driver will know where you go, who you meet with and other information that may make you vulnerable.

Self-Driving:
Pros:

  • You take your fate in your own hands literally.  You are much more in control of your own life when you self-drive.
  • You can potentially respond better to a security incident.  If you already have – or if you obtain quality training in security/evasive driving techniques you will be better prepared than almost all but the best trained drivers to respond to a security incident when you are traveling in a vehicle.
  • You have greater personal and operational security because you do not need to advise another person of your plans.
  • You will become familiar with the area where you are living much more quickly because by self-driving you will be forced to learn the local streets, etc.

Cons:

  • You are liable in the event you are involved in a vehicle accident.  As a foreigner you may be judged to be at fault even if you are not.  This can result in you being jailed even for minor infractions.  This is one of the greatest vulnerabilities of self-driving in developing world countries.
  • Traffic patterns and driving styles are usually very different (and in many ways much worse) than most western visitors and expatriates are accustomed to in their home countries.
  • You are potentially more vulnerable if stopped by local law enforcement or security forces while driving.  They may see this as an opportunity to extort money from you.
  • Parking can be difficult in many congested third world cities and finding safe, acceptable parking near your destination can be very time consuming and difficult.
  • If you need to leave the vehicle unattended in some locations depending on the security situation you may need to do a search of the vehicle before entering it and departing.  Not only is this time consuming but it can leave you vulnerable while you are distracted and focused on searching the vehicle.

In conclusion the decision on whether to self-drive or hire a driver is a personal that should be made based on the environment you are operating in, your capabilities, the resources available to you and a review of the considerations above.
In a future post we’ll discuss working with local drivers.

Advertisements

Common Carjacking and other Vehicle Assault Methods


Sign in Nairobi’s Central Business District warning about carjacking


Carjacking remains a serious threat in many developing countries.  For our purposes in this post we will broaden the definition of carjacking and consider not only forcible theft of the vehicle but also armed robbery of the vehicle’s occupants and/or kidnapping.  This may bother some purists as technically carjacking is meant to infer the theft of the vehicle by force however the motivation of the criminals is generally less important than the tactics and methods used.

Blocking vehicle — this is a classic method used in robberies, kidnappings and assassinations worldwide.  When you are driving slowly or are stopped at a predetermined location – usually a chokepoint – a vehicle will pull in front of you preventing your movement or in some cases two vehicles, one to the front and one to the rear will block you in.  While you are unable to escape the perpetrators will either deploy from the vehicle or from hiding places along the road and carry out the crime – whether it is robbery, kidnapping or assassination.  In Nairobi, Kenya there has been a trend of blocking the vehicle from the rear.  Most homes there are surrounded by a wall with an entrance gate for vehicles.  When a driver arrives at their home and waits for their guard or other domestic employee to open the gate for them a blocking vehicle pulls up behind them pinning the victims car between the gate and the blocking vehicle.  The perpetrators then deploy from their vehicle and carry-out the crime.

The Bump – the carjackers will bump your vehicle from behind and cause a minor accident.  When you stop to check the damage they will victimize you.

Car Trouble – Another vehicle will pull alongside or a pedestrian will come over and indicate you have a flat tire or some other car problem to get you to pull over and get out of the vehicle.

Good Samaritan – The criminals will simulate a car accident, pose as distressed motorists or injured victims to entice you to stop and give aid.

Overtaking Vehicle Attack – there is no ruse involved here.  This is an overt attack where the assailants will drive up from the rear and force your vehicle to pull over – either by: (1) using their vehicle as a weapon for force you off the road, (2) displaying weapons (3) or in some cases firing on your vehicle.

Halted Traffic Attack – another common overt attack.  This is similar to the Blocking Vehicle Attack except natural traffic conditions provide the “blocking vehicles”.  In this case the criminals know the local traffic patterns and select a location where at a specific time of day traffic creates a chokepoint.  The attackers then assault the vehicle while its stuck in traffic.  They will typically attack on foot or frequently on motorcycles.  This is more common when the intent is to rob the vehicle’s occupants as its difficult (but possible) to conduct a kidnapping this way and more difficult to steal the vehicle due to limited egress options.

Countermeasures for carjacking and similar types of vehicle assaults hinge on situational awareness and knowledge of the local threat environment.  Some key considerations:

  • Know the prevalence, trends and methods used in the location where you are living or visiting.

  • Practice good route analysis and planning.  Know where the danger areas and chokepoints are on the routes you take.

  • Be familiar with protective driving techniques and consider getting formal training in security and evasive driving.

  • Keep windows up and doors locked.

  • Heighten your level of alertness when at key danger areas.

  • Don’t fall for ruses or ploys designed to make you stop your vehicle or get out of your vehicle.  If you see someone in need of assistance use your cell phone to call for help rather than attempting to provide aid yourself.  If involved in a minor accident or hit by another vehicle (as in the “Bump”) drive to a police station or other safe haven.