As I swung around a bend on the dark, unfamiliar road, there it was -a late-model car humped over the edge of a banking, its headlights still on. A male figure sprawled across the front seat, his legs hanging limply out the door. A young woman waved frantically for help.m
"He's hurt, he hurt!" she screamedm
I braked to a quick stop, and Fred Stafford, an instructor at the Scotti School of Defensive Driving, got out to take a look. He called to me, and I went over to help lift the injured man out of the car.m
As I reached inside the vehicle, the "victim" sprang up and I found myself looking down the barrel of a .45-caliber automatic pistol.m
It was all a setup and I had fallen for it -all the way!m
"If I can stop you car on the road, I'll get you," pledges Bob O'Toole, a policeman-instructor in the antiterrorist course at the school. And here was the proof.
Over and over again Tony Scotti and his crew had drummed into us -three drivers for the top officers of major corporations in the United States and Canada and I -some of the basics for executive safety on the road. Terrorists attack cars not only in Latin America, the Mideast, and Europe, but in the US and Canada as well, they remind us.
Only a few weeks ago a Brink's armored car carrying $1.6 million was assaulted in Rockland County, N.Y. Two Nyack policeman and a Brinks guard were killed in the ensuing gun battle.
A declassified CIA report on international terrorism states that between 1968 and 1979, there were 3,336 terrorist incidents in the world, 318 of them in North America. The largest number, 1,267, were in Western Europe. Of the total, 40.6 percent of the victims were North Americans and 33.8 percent Western Europeans. Only 13.6 percent were Latin Americans. In 1980 terrorist incidents in North America included 19 bombings and two assassinations. In the first eight months of this year, there were nine bombings.
The figures are deceptive, however. To be classified as terrorism, the incident has to cross international borders. In other words, German against German, Italian against Italian, or American against American is not called terrorism. Even so, they all involve violence and, by association, terrorism.
Even though it was not, by definition, listed as a terrorist attack, the seizure and ultimate killing of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro on March 16, 1978, showed the laxity of his security at a time of high tension in Italy.
A few months earlier, West German businessman Hanns-Martin Schleyer had been boxed in on a narrow one-way street in Cologne, kidnapped, and ultimately killed.
What went wrong? In both cases the target vehicles were forced to stop. Even an armored car, if brought to a halt, can be destroyed by concentrated gunfire, asserts Tony Scotti, a former professional race driver and car designer.
The Moro and Schleyer drivers were not alert enough. They fell for one of the oldest ploys on the books by allowing their cars to be boxed in.
Why, for example, did the Schleyer convoy turn down a one-way street when there was a telltale van and lookout on the corner? They could have gone straight ahead if something did not appear right.
"Be very wary of vans," hammers Scotti, "because a van can hold a lot of armed people inside."
Both Schleyer and Moro knew all along they were targets. This should have resulted in extreme caution. But in both cases there was total surprise.
The Scotti School of Defensive Driving is one of three major advanced auto schools in the US which train drivers -chauffeurs for key government officials, top officers of a company, theatrical performers, etc. -how to recognize and thwart an attack, whether it is by an extremist political organization or a band of criminals after money. The other schools are run by Bob Bondurant in California and Bill Scott in West Virginia.
My education at Scotti's school began at 8:30 on a cold November morning. Thompson Speedway, a stock-car race track in the northeastern corner of Connecticut, is silent as a knife-sharp wind slices across the tarmac from the northwest.
Several Ford Granadas sit waiting. All have specially modified suspensions (shocks and springs) because of the punishment the cars take, plus at least 36 pounds of pressure in the tires. Without it, they would be peeled right off the wheels in some of the violent maneuvers the cars will be put through.
Four tough days lay ahead.
"Nobody ever said it would be easy," explains Stafford, a former Boston newspaperman and car-buff magazine editor who learned how to race a car eight years ago.
Purpose: To learn how to use the maximum capibility of a car -safely -so as to evade an attempted ambush. Those are the key words -maximum capability of a car.m Knowing how to get the most out of a car, safely,m can be the difference between escape or no escape.
The bottom line at an antiterrorist driving school is this: If something happens on the road -something unexpected -can the driver get out of it in time? Nine of Scotti's graduates have had "something happen" in the course of their driving, says Scotti, and did manage to get out of it.
If nothing else was drilled into us during the four days, it was this: "Be alert." Know what is around you on the road.
The four objectives of the class are:
*Learn to recognize when you're in trouble on the road. Are you being followed? If so, how can you elude the pursuer?
"Instantaneous recognition is the goal," asserts Scotti.
At 40 miles an hour, an auutomobile travels about 60 feet a second. Therefore , learn to think in "feet per second," not "miles per hour," the instructors stress again and again.
Average reaction time is from .75 seconds to 1 second. At 50 miles an hour, a car travels 75 feet before the driver can even react to a problem up ahead. If the trouble is 150 or 200 feet away, he probably could not stop in time.
You learn how to perform evasive maneuvers in a car -quickly. For example, do you know how to brake a car and turn the steering wheel at the same time in an emergency? When you brake hard, the wheels are apt to lock up; and when the wheels lock up, the vehicle cannot be steered. It will continue to go straight ahead or maybe a little to the right or left, even if the front wheels are turned all the way to the left or right.
So, to brake hard and still turn, you must stamp on the brake hard for an instant, release it, then jab the brakes repeatedly while turning the wheel. As the brakes are released, even for an instant, the car will turn.
Another thing to remember: "Even 30 miles per hour can be extremely fast under certain conditions," reminds Fred Stafford.
At 30 mph it takes about 85 feet to stop on dry pavement, 110 feet on a wet road, 170 feet on snow, and 275 feet on ice, assuming the tires are in good shape. At 40 mph, the distance increases to 125, 170, and 275 for the first three conditions; the distance on ice is indeterminate. At 50 mph, they are 185, 250, and 410.
"If I've learned anything over the years," asserts Scotti, "it's to allow more distance between my car and the car in front of me." Also:
*Recognize a hazardous situation and know what to do about it.
*Develop enough driving ability to be able to select the right diversionary maneuver automatically. Fractions of a second count at any speed.
"If you're going 50 miles an hour and do something wrong, you won't soon forget it," Scotti declares.
*Develop a wide knowledge of transportation security.
Basic to any maneuver on the highway is an understanding of vehicle dynamics. If you turn the steering wheel to the left, the weight of the car shifts to the right front wheel; and vice versa. Step on the accelerator and the weight shifts to the rear. Apply the brakes and the weight shifts to the front. Can the tires take the increased weight? Few motorists ever give it a thought.
Tires at the Scotti school usually last no more than 15 or 20 days before they are flat-spotted and have to be replaced -150 or more tires a year. The rubber is simply scrubbed off the tires by the rough road surface and devastating use.
A tire gauge, in fact, is one of the most important tools in the glovebox. Use it often, the instructors advise. "Drivers too often overload the tires on their cars," says Scotti.
Suppose you do run into an ambush on a lonely back road? Can you make a "J-turn" by backing up fast, spinning the car 180-degrees, and get out of there in a wink? Or a "bootleg turn," in which you reverse direction in the flash of an eyelid? These are the kinds of maneuvers you see on TV car chases -whipping a car around on a dime, so to speak. Actually, they're notm hard to perform. You just have to know how, and be willing to swing the steering wheel hard the first time, assures Stafford.
Sure, they're a lot of fun for the driver, but the off-beat turns are tough as nails on the car. That's where the high-pressure tires and beefed-up suspensions on the cars at the track pay their way.
Few motorists know just what a car can do. A knowledgeable driver can get out of all sorts of tough situations by using the weight of the vehicle to his advantage.
But first, obviously, the driver has to stay in his seat. No one can control the car if he's all over the front seat. That calls for safety belts at all times, the school recommends. "That means allm the time," insists Scotti. "If you turn on the ignition and back up an inch, snap on the safety belt."
One point the Scotti team makes over and over again is: It's the driver, not the car, that makes a mistake.
How many motorists say: "My car hit a curb," or "my car hit another car"? A car, reminds Stafford, "is an inanimated thing. It can't do anythingm unless you tell it what to do." If a car hits a curb when it's being parked, it's because the driver didn't turn the steering wheel in time to avoid the curb.
In other words, the car is out of control.
"How many people have approached a spot where they have three feet on both sides of the car and yet they inch through as if they had an inch or two?" asks Bob O'Toole, the policeman-instructor. "You should know where the right front tire is almost to the inch."
A car only does three things: go, stop, and turn.
"It's driver error, not machine error, that causes accidents in most cases," says Stafford.
Indeed, few people are in full control of their vehicles at all times. By "control," Scotti means the ability to put a car where you want to put it on the road.
"You're not in control if you can't judge distances," he insists.
Driving calls for 100 percent of a driver's attention, not only for control but also for security. In the Moro and Schleyer kidnappings, the security was extremely lax. A successful graduate of an antiterrorist driving school learns to apply police bomb-squad tactics and check out his vehicle beforem he gets into it. Car bombings are not rare, even in the US. There is a safer way to approach a car and inspect it before sitting down and starting it up.
To bring home its instruction to a student, the Scotti school goes out of its way to "get" him. "After all," reminds Scotti, "the companies are paying us to get you." (Incidentally, three of the four students in the antiterrorist course stopped their vehicles to help out what they believed to be a hapless victim on the highway.)
If you stop your car to help out someone else, it could be a setup.
To emphasize the points they were making and get the full attention of the students, the Scotti team used a deactivated .45caliber automatic pistol. Five times during the couse I looked down the barrel of that .45 because of some mistake I had made, such as falling into the vehicle ambush or failing to keep the doors locked at all times.
Speed is important in every maneuver. To discipline the students, the Scotti team uses a hand-held radar gun, the kind most motorists are all too familiar with.
Finally, to wrap up the four-day course and put it all in perspective, "the chase" pits a student driver against a chase car. At 45 or 50 mph, it's unnerving to have a car only a foot or two from your back bumper. To get a good grade, you have to make all the turns correctly and keep the pursuing vehicle from coming abreast of you or passing you. The only rule: No brakes.
Whipping to the end of the course, you stop, pull a fast J-turn, and head off in the other direction. Meanwhile, the driver of the chase car tries to nail you before you can pull off the maneuver. He pulls in front of your car as you stop, exits fast, and chases you on foot. If he can come abreast of your car -waving that .45 -before the J-turn, you lose.
About 80 percent of those who take the course make the grade.
The astute student, who may drive for the chairman of the board, has learned to become a more alert driver -and a far safer driver to boot.
Tony Scotti has taught his antiterrorist course to drivers all over Latin America as well as the US. In January he and his instructors head for the Mideast for six weeks.
Officer O'Toole plans to pack his Kevlar bulletproof vest, just in case.