This article in our Situational Awareness for the Traveler series, gives you the tools to keep yourself safe when you pump gas at the gas station.   Whether you are on the road or just stopping by to top off the tank, take a moment and imagine the following scenario:

Distracted at the pump

My husband and I were on vacation recently and we were fueling up our truck.

A car pulled up quickly next to a trash can a few lanes over and the driver jumped out, left the car running, and proceeded to search the trash. (Let me just say that I profile everyone and this guy fit the picture of a deadbeat thug that looked drugged out.) Then he saw us… and headed our way!

My husband drives a very imposing vehicle that looks like it could be housing a SWAT team (it really just has our four daughters in it, but looks can be deceiving). What was this guy thinking?


What’s going through your mind right now? 

Are you the type of person that pays attention to your surroundings or are you in a state of iDistraction (staring at your smartphone)?

Do you have a plan of action for situations like this?

If you answered “no” to the last question, please take a few moments to keep reading.  We’ll help you come up with a plan.

Our event unfolded in less than 10 seconds and let me tell you that I was thankful we were not watching the TV screen on the pump. The minute I saw the man search the trash I yelled at my husband to get in the truck NOW! Sometimes my husband thinks he knows best. Men! He stood next to the car, turned toward the guy, put his hand in his coat pocket to get a grip on his firearm, and stared down the oncoming man. The look on the man’s face changed and he figured out that my husband was very aware and ready for him. He stopped, turned around and went back to his car and drove off even faster than he drove in.

We actually got into an argument after the event because I thought it was smart to get in the car and lock the doors so we could just drive off if we had to. My husband on the other hand knew he would intimidate the man with his posture and he didn’t want to compromise his position or take the time to go back and take the nozzle out in case we had to drive away. Have your plan figured out ahead of time with yourself and your family. For example, what if the kids were climbing out of the truck to go use the restroom at the same time? We would’ve potentially had a much bigger problem on our hands. Think about your situation and decide what’s best for you.

Gas stations are “fringe areas” meaning that they are a higher risk for an assault or encounter by a predator so I make sure I’m using my situational awareness skills and paying extra attention in these areas.

So let’s assess the situation and ask yourself questions to help you develop this skill in the gas station scenario:

  • That car is driving way too fast and pulls up next to the trash. Why is he searching the trash? *RED FLAG
  • This man seems irrational and desperate. Does he look drugged out? *RED FLAG
  • Why is he staring so hard at us? Does he want something from us? *RED FLAG
  • Why is he all of a sudden headed straight for us? *RED FLAG

If you are difficult to surprise, you are difficult to harm.

What Can You Do TODAY?

Here are some simple tips you can start using today at a gas station:

  • Be aware of your surroundings and the people around you at all times. Some advocate getting a view of behind the station before you pull up to a pump.
  • Choose the pump carefully if you can. What will be blocking your view based on where you choose to fuel up? Can you point your vehicle toward the road for a quick getaway if needed?
  • Walk with purpose and confidence. Keep your head up and stay on task. Keep focused when putting the nozzle in and dealing with the self pay system. Be especially aware before and during those times.
  • Lock your door the minute you get out of the car. Start fueling. Unfortunately, this is the perfect time for someone to make contact with you when you are just standing next to the car. Technically, the recommendations are to not get in your car while fueling in case you get statically charged and then spark when you touch the nozzle again. If you feel like you need to get back in the car, when you get out, the safest thing is to touch something metal that’s grounded before touching the nozzle. If none of this makes sense, do some research into static electricity and fueling here.
  • Do not fall into the “I don’t want to be rude” syndrome. There are a million people that a stranger can ask for help, why did they choose you?
  • If anyone heads straight for you it is a warning sign. You must assess that person as a potential threat because he or she has an interest in you. Have a plan of action ahead of time if someone approaches you. If it’s at night, do you have a high powered flashlight or pepper spray in your pocket? Are you trained for what to do next?
  • Be ready to move away from any person quickly even if it means walking backwards.

Everyone needs situational awareness skills in today’s world, from kids to the elderly. Ask anyone in the protection or defense industry and they will agree that situational awareness is the foundation of your personal safety.

Why? Situational Awareness focuses on conflict avoidance, giving you time to see if there are potential threats coming your way. It teaches you to pay greater notice to people, places, and objects in your vicinity. You learn to watch body language, assess different situations and make the best decision based on those assessments. These are all skills that can be learned and they aren’t taught in school.

You are a Target

It comes down to this: the best fight is one you’re never in.

None of us expect to be attacked today, but remember that most victims of violence start out their stories with “I didn’t think it could happen to me”. It’s a great mindset and skill when you simply recognize the possibility that something could happen without any warning, in any place and at any time. Use the tips listed above and have the correct mindset to not be an easy target.

So, will you think of the seemingly mundane task of fueling up your car the same anymore? We would love to hear your thoughts, comments and suggestions using the comments section below.

If you have ideas for other articles that you would like to see in any of our series, please let us know!  You can also email comments and suggestions to

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