Note: this an adaptation from my non-fiction book Suburban Defense: A cop's guide to surviving riots, civil war, SHTF, or modern urban combat, available on Amazon
Much of this advice may only apply in life-threatening circumstances, such as near-WROL (without rule of law) and WROL. Your state may have new protections for motorists in riot/protest type situations. Not all states have adopted enhanced protections for motorists. Look up your local laws and obtain an attorney’s advice.
If things go pear shaped in the world, get used to driving with your windows up and the doors locked. This is a standard practice in third-world countries or bad neighborhoods. The glass is just one more obstacle an attacker has to overcome. It also prevents them from just reaching in to open the door or assault you, plus it keeps thrown objects out. If you must lower your window, drop it no more than two inches, just enough to talk.
There will always be cameras and video of any incident where you have to use force with/from your vehicle. Thugs will obtain your license plate and turn that over to authorities. Whether or not you will be prosecuted will depend on your conduct and the politics in your area. You should also expect that you will be personally exposed and your home and your employment targeted by a vindictive Internet mob even if you escape any legal charges.
Should police become involved, any defensive driving was a use of force, the same as shooting someone. This was not a traffic collision. Never make a statement to police. Shut up and ask for an attorney. Do not talk to the police.
Be observant or face the consequences. In 1992, America watched as Reginald Denny was beaten nearly to death because he drove into a riot listening to country music instead of news radio that might have warned him of the chaos at Florence and Normandy.
In a semi-rule of law situation or when protesters are just being jerks, don’t escalate the situation. Remain calm and get through the moment without being shot or arrested. Getting out of the vehicle only exposes you to risks. Yelling at the protesters won’t get you through and may provoke them to violence. You are playing into their hands by getting angry so they can escalate their behavior.
If you have to drive through a crowd
Keep your doors locked and windows rolled up. Keep your firearm secure but handy in your holster. Consider where your gun is and what happens if you have to stop suddenly. Keep it on your body if you have to bail out of the car in a hurry.
If you must draw your gun, keep it out of sight of the rioters. Don’t let them see it as it may escalate the situation or they may shoot you.
If the mob is non-violent and you are stopped, don’t try and force your way through. Forcing your way through a non-violent crowd will aggravate the crowd and will turn you into the aggressor. It is frightening and you will be infuriated, but in most cases it will be over soon. Don’t give into people trying to incite a reaction by becoming hostile.
If the mob is violent, don’t stop. Moving slowly at a predictable pace allows people (who are willing) to get out of the way. It could also be considered reasonable, or proportionate force, to move just enough to get your vehicle out of danger while giving the protestors a chance to flee.
Don't get out of your vehicle unless it is disabled. Even if the protesters are forcing their way in, it is easier to defend yourself from inside the vehicle. Think of it as a cage that keeps them (mostly) out. Only exit your vehicle if it is disabled or on fire. If your car is breached, you may have a right to self-defense in your state, a “castle doctrine” in your vehicle. Your legal standing and physical safety are better with the car around you.
Don't run people over if you can avoid it. Remember that using your vehicle as a weapon is a crime; deliberately running someone over is murder. A vehicle vs. pedestrian self-defense claim may be difficult to argue. All of your actions must be deliberate at this point to minimize injuries and get you out of the crowd.
Your vehicle may have an impact shutoff sensor and you may find yourself in a disabled vehicle surrounded by a hostile crowd. While driving through a crowd, they will beat on your car body, the windows, and try to vandalize the car. They may even succeed at breaking windows. Jumpers will try to get in front of the vehicle, on the hood, roof, or in the bed of a truck.
The crowd will already be mad at you for driving through and will take it as a mass personal affront if you start hitting people. Most drivers stop when they hit someone. The mob then surrounds the car and tries to force entry. As the driver panics and tries to get away, they hit the gas and strike more people at high speed. Stay calm and don’t panic. Control yourself and think your way out. Utilize openings in the crowd or drive though non-roadway areas like lawns to get away.
Drive until you are not just away from the rioters/protesters, but also out of sight. You might feel safe a hundred yards away in a clear street, but they might be pursuing you. In Los Angeles in 2020, protesters employed a chase vehicle that literally chased down someone that drove through a pursuit.
Vehicular self-defense legal principles
Barring any new (as of 2021 laws), standard self-defense laws apply even in vehicles. You cannot hit someone with a vehicle on purpose in self-defense unless they are an imminent threat to your life. A vehicle is deadly force versus pedestrians or even occupants of other vehicles. People die in car accidents all the time so I hope I don’t have to explain further. You must have an actual, reasonable fear that if you stop or don’t hit that rioter, you will be seriously injured or killed.
Remember that crowds will likely take your vehicle to be a lethal threat and act in their self-defense, regardless of the purity of their motives. Your behaviors may take a riotous mob that wanted to harm you and turn them into the victims. Expect that even in a WROL situation, the mob will try to shoot you in their defense.
You cannot drive through the crowd merely because you were afraid. A “bare fear” is not enough to justify lethal force. You need to have an actual threat with imminent danger (and be able to articulate it), such as someone pointed a gun at you, they broke the window and were trying to pull you out, a Molotov cocktail hit your vehicle, etc. Seeing someone pulled out and being beaten to death in front of you like Reginald Denny could be a good justification if you had a real fear of the same happening to you.
An armed attacker in another (moving) vehicle would probably be a legitimate use of ramming against a vehicle. Smashing your car into their car could shake the aim of the gunman or screw up their firing position. The other vehicle could crash. An armed motorcyclist is easier; just slam the car into the bike and knock it down. Be aware that any collision may cause your vehicle to become disabled or crash.
Remember that in leftist jurisdictions you may be prosecuted for a use of force against protesters, even if morally or ostensibly legally justified. In Texas, an off-duty Army sergeant was driving for rideshare when he was confronted by a protester with an AK-47 who pointed the rifle at the car. The sergeant drew his pistol and fatally shot the man with the AK. He was charged with murder over a year later and of this writing will shortly be going to trial.
The information contained in this work does not constitute legal advice and should never be used without first consulting with an attorney or other professional experts. No endorsement of any official or agency is implied.
The content of this work is of an editorial nature and for informational purposes only. Your use of the information in this book is at your own risk. The author and publisher hereby disclaim any liability to any party for any loss, damage, or disruption through use of the information in this work.
Author Don Shift
Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and avid fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film who has pushed a black and white for a mile or two. He is a student of disasters, history, and current events.