Self-defence workshop puts women in the driving seat

Take that! Self-defence specialist Andy Williams (right) demonstrates how to fend off an attacker
Take that! Self-defence specialist Andy Williams (right) demonstrates how to fend off an attacker

A ‘car confidence’ workshop in Dunstable saw town mayor councillor Liz Jones, join 60 mostly female visitors to learn self-defence against road rage.

The Women in the Driving Seat event, which was hosted by Vauxhall retailer Thurlow Nunn Dunstable last Wednesday, included a series of presentations on how to combat road danger and possible attackers.

With dark, cold winter evenings firmly in place, the mayor advised women to be prepared for potential attacks by carrying personal panic alarms and keeping their mobile phones handy, and said workshops like these helped more people to re-engage with the highway code.

She said: “If ladies stay alert, they can stay safe on the roads.”

Ex-police chief, Vic Botterill, 73, explored the psychology behind aggressive and dangerous driving in his presentation, Painting Your Face from the Inside.

He gave the audience tips including mouthing sorry, not smiling and keeping a distance when faced with road rage, and stressed that everyone has a responsibility to themselves and others to stay safe behind the wheel.

Vic said: “Once you know why you do things, you know why other people do things. Sometimes we forget to be courteous on the road and end up being rude which can turn into rage because people then become incensed by this behaviour.”

Attendees were also shown how to change a tyre and use an inflation kit in case of a puncture, and check anti-freeze and oil levels by Vauxhaull technicians.

A shocking 81 per cent of UK drivers have been victim to road rage according to a recent survey, of which around 10 per cent were attacked physically.

Police officer and self-protection specialist Andy Williams, 53, gave an entertaining and practical demonstration on how to ward off potential assailants which included disarming techniques using everyday objects such as keys, deodorant and a pen.

He also offered valuable safety tips such as keeping doors locked and windows closed when in inner-city areas to prevent possible attacks while at a standstill, keeping valuables on the floor of the passenger side rather than on the seat to avoid them being taken when the car has stopped and making sure to only unlock car doors when at the car to stop someone getting in to attack or steal.

Andy, who started his martial arts training in 1980, said: “It is important for anybody to learn how to be safe on the roads, but women are perceived as being more vulnerable than men and are seen as an easy target when it comes to road rage.

“Also, other people are often scared to get involved, even if they see it’s a woman being attacked, so you have to be able to defend yourself.

“The reactions I teach come with a personal safety and awareness angle. There are a lot of bad habits out there and it’s a case of educating people.

“It’s like learning first aid; these are things that anybody can do in a threatening situation. The reactions need to be as natural as pushing the right pedals when driving a car.”

He also explained the difference between types of knives assailants can use, adding: “The large knives are used to scare and intimidate while smaller knives are used to attack. With most knife attack injuries, the victims never saw the knife coming because it was too small.

“If someone threatens you with a knife, just give them what they want.”

Steph Savill, 55, founder of the FOXY Lady Drivers Club, a UK-wide support service for women with a network of female-friendly garages, talked about tyre safety and stressed the importance of regularly checking tyres to prevent breakdowns as a result of punctures.

She said: “Those tiny patches of black rubber are so important. The simplest way to check them is to use a 20 pence coin - just insert it into the tyre tread and grooves, and if you can’t see the outer part of it, the tyre has enough tread.

“If, however, you can see the outside of the coin, your tyre tread is close to being borderline under the legal limit [of 1.6mm] and should be checked by a qualified mechanic as soon as possible.”

Ivan Pletersky, 50, general manager, Thurlow Nunn, said: “Having recently read reports of local ladies being targeted in the area, I wanted the event to have an educational purpose and give them knowledge on how to protect themselves and maintain their vehicles effectively, without the need to be reliant on other people.

“There is often a misconception in the trade that we don’t value our female customers to the same degree [as male customers], and that’s a myth we want to dispel.

“Over 50 per cent of our customers are women; young ladies who have bought their first cars from us and more older ladies who have been looking for dealership support for many years; and we want to make them feel comfortable and let them know they can come and talk to us at any stage.”

Rukhsana Shaikh-Zaidi, 48, from Luton, heard about the event from a friend and said she found it ‘most useful’ especially the self-defence demonstration.

She said: “I think it’s very important for women to be aware of themselves. I’m very cautious of what I can do in terms of defending myself when I’m out there.

“I thought the tip about not unlocking your car from miles away was great as it wasn’t something I had ever thought about. I will now be more aware and self conscious.”

The mayor added: “I think putting on this event was absolutely critical to help and support young female drivers and female drivers who are maybe not as confident out there on the roads, or even those who are confident but just want a reminder on how you can stay safe these days.

“Our colleagues at Central Bedfordshire Council work closely with the Highways Agency to look at how we can help situations on the road and combat accidents. We have implemented 20mph zones throughout Dunstable town centre and its side streets, and installed average speed cameras to help reduce speeding on main roads.”