There are many different types of stalking or harassment, one of which is following somebody without a legitimate reason.
Stalking statistics can be shocking.
According to a survey done for the U.S. Department of Justice in a 12-month period, about 5.9 million people over the age of 18 experienced some form of stalking (about 14 per 1,000 people), and about 24.5% of stalking victims report being followed or spied on.
If you’re being followed in your car, pull over in a well-lit, public place. If the stranger tries to approach you, roll up your windows and lock the doors. Then call 911 as soon as it’s safe to do so.
Below, you will find the best rules of thumb for what to do if somebody follows you in a car.
Stay Calm and Alert
If somebody is following you in a car while you are on foot, walking or jogging, or driving a car yourself, stay alert but remain as calm as possible. This will allow you to remain clear-headed, gather your thoughts, and plan on what your next move should be.
Always remain alert and observant of your surroundings and maintain situational awareness.
If you have a suspicion somebody may be following you focus your attention on remaining calm in the first place.
That may be easier said than done, but it is vital to remain level-headed because this will help you in making a better judgment on the whole situation, and you will be able to make better calls on what to do next.
Here are several things to keep in mind.
It is a general rule of thumb to remain alert, especially if you are in a new city, neighborhood, or passing through a shady part of the city.
Keep tabs on people around you, whether you are noticing the same people or cars repeatedly around or behind you. Keep in mind that a stalker may not necessarily always follow behind you. They may try to get ahead of you or seemingly turn and go down a different street only to appear somewhere near you again after a little while.
They may try to make it look as if they are not paying attention looking down at their phone or even talking on it. Some stalkers may keep a lot of distance and appear to walk very slowly, only to hurry up and close it when they are out of sight.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the stalker may not work alone. Stay alert and on your toes, and do not judge the book based on its cover. Sometimes dangerous people may not look remotely intimidating until the second they are ready to act.
If you are in a car yourself, do not speed up or drive in a reckless manner unless absolutely necessary because this can ultimately put you in more danger.
Test Them to See if You Are Being Followed
If you feel like somebody is following you in a car while walking or driving your car, take a few short and unexpected detours. Change your route to something less predictable and do a few turns that may not make any sense in order to see if that person really is following you.
To find out if somebody follows you, it is recommended to take four left or right turns (essentially ending up at the same area you started from).
This can be done equally efficiently regardless of whether you are on foot or driving a vehicle.
If that person continues to remain behind you, there is a good chance they are indeed following you.
While driving, you can also pretend that you are going to make a certain turn or get off a certain road using the appropriate blinker but in the last second, turn the other way. Or try going onto a highway and then immediately take the next exit off of it. Most people don’t do that and do not drive in circles. This will immediately let you know they may be following you.
By doing so, if the person really is following you, they will probably catch on to what you are doing. This alone can scare some people away.
Remain in Safe Public Areas
If somebody follows you in a car while you are walking or driving your car, ensure you remain in well-populated, well-lit, and busy areas where there are a lot of people around. If you are not in a populated area, consider heading to the closest possible area or part of the city, that is.
It is best to go straight to the nearest police station. If the person follows you, you can press on the horn to attract attention from the police officers, who will immediately come out to check what is going on. On the other hand, keep in mind that not all police stations work 24/7, and you do not want to end up in an empty parking lot at night.
Another solution is to head towards a local fire station, gas station, hospital, shopping mall, grocery store, bank, city hall, school, courthouse, etc. Many of these venues are very busy throughout the day, have security guards, and remain under video surveillance 24/7.
Another option is to go to a nearby restaurant or coffee shop to grab a coffee, a convenience store, or even a bus station and pretend you are traveling somewhere. Spend some time there.
You can also go to the bathroom and stay there a while to see if that person is still waiting for you somewhere nearby. While there, you will have enough time to let the employees know that you may be being followed and call the emergency responders or a friend or relative to come to pick you up.
If you are going to go to a gas station, a shopping center, or another similar venue, do not assume you are immediately safe. Be extremely careful when going out of the car or walking to the building, as the follower may simply attack you in front of the people outside.
High traffic areas can also aid you in shaking the person following you off.
If you are on foot and being followed by somebody in a car while sticking to well-populated areas, look for places that are also not accessible by cars. This may give you some time to get out of sight and lose them.
However, if you are in a car, you can try to use other larger vehicles to hide and weave through in order to lose your follower. Prepare for evasive maneuvering if necessary.
Stick to roads and neighborhoods, you know. You do not want to end up in a back alley, dead-end street, or empty parking lots.
Gather as Much Information About Them as Possible
If you have confirmed that somebody is really following you, the next step is to try and gather as much information about them as possible.
Try to remember important details like their registration plate, what the car looks like, its make, color, what that person looks like, their sex, hair, and eye color, race, build, possible age, and any other details.
Details like that can help police in identifying the criminal.
Keep an eye on your location, street name, and number because you may have to give these details to the police when you call them.
It is not recommended to confront the person following you in any way—especially if you feel your life may be in danger. Confronting the person following you may result in them getting aggressive and possibly attacking you.
One of the common pieces of advice is to slow down or even completely stop in order to see if they will also slow down, stop with you or pass you or pass and wait for you later.
Some people recommended turning around and confronting your follower, like asking them a question or asking them to stop following you, or even trying to follow them yourself. Other people suggested acting as if you forgot your phone or wallet and just turning 180 degrees and walking past the person following you while keeping an eye on them, watching how they will react.
While such tactics may work in certain situations where you are in a well-populated, lit, and safe environment, in other cases, this may be a very dangerous action to take.
However, if you are going to fiddle with your shoes, for example, make sure you are doing it in or around a safe well-populated area, ideally one that is also under surveillance.
If that person means you harm, this can be very dangerous. You may end up giving your stalker the green light to actually close the distance and approach you and make the whole thing a lot easier for them.
The same applies to driving.
If you are driving, it is not recommended to pull over or go out of the vehicle unless absolutely necessary or unless your vehicle has been physically pushed off the road.
If you stop at a red light, ensure that all windows are rolled up and doors are locked—especially if you are dealing with a road rager.
Stopping pulling over, and generally getting out of the vehicle or trying to engage with road ragers can be particularly dangerous.
Call the Authorities
If somebody follows you and you are feeling threatened, in danger, do not hesitate to call 911 or the non-emergency local police dispatch number.
The best route is to always call the authorities; however, you can also call a friend or a relative in certain instances.
Even if you manage to shake the person following you off, it is still advisable to call the police that way because there will be a record of the possible offense. Some stalkers can try to call the police before you in order to lie about you following them, so it is better to stay one step ahead of them.
You can call the police or 911 if you are being followed by a police car and you have a reasonable suspicion they may be an impostor and not a real police officer. Keep in mind that a police officer can legally follow you for as long as they want before pulling you over if they ever do it.
Observe details and note the license plate numbers. If someone is truly stalking you or your family, take down as many details as possible, including the make of the car and its license plates (state and number). This can help police track down drivers later on when necessary.
Do Not Go to Your Home
If somebody follows you in a car or on foot or if you manage to shake the person following you off, do not assume that you are safe just yet and do not head for your home immediately because they may still be following you only to find out where you live.
You can go to a safe area and while being there, keep an eye on your surroundings. This can be a good time to call the police, 911. You can also call a friend or a relative to come to pick you up.
If you are on foot, walk for a little while and if you are in a car, drive around a neighborhood or tow. Take a longer, roundabout trip around the city. Do not go straight to your home or the home of a friend or a relative.
Understand the Local Laws
Following someone in a car can be considered harassment and stalking if there is no legitimate reason to follow them.
In many states, it is considered illegal to follow somebody in a car or on foot with the intent to harass, intimidate, annoy, or alarm. If the person being followed feels threatened, frightened, intimidated, prosecuted, or oppressed, this is considered a crime of stalking.
If a person is being followed unlawfully, this can be considered a criminal offense. The person followed can report it to the police, press charges, and even demand a restraining order depending on the local laws and regulations.
What is considered illegally following somebody or stalking can be a bit of a gray area in certain cases because the laws in different regions can vary somewhat.
The person followed may have to prove in court that they were truly followed or stalked and felt threatened or frightened. And just because somebody may happen to have an overlapping route like yours does not mean they are stalking you.
In some states, proof of intent may be needed, while in others (like Minnesota), you do not need to prove the person following you intended to do something; all you have to prove is that they were indeed following you.
In other instances, there may not be any need for the person followed to prove anything.
What is more, in some states, the following has to happen several times in order to be considered illegal. In contrast, in other states (like Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Georgia), following somebody can be considered illegal the first time it occurs.
In some states (like Arizona, for example), it is considered illegal to continue following somebody if they have asked you to stop doing it. A simple, polite request is enough, and if they continue to do it without any legitimate reason, they are breaking the law from this point forward. That being said, if you are not feeling safe talking to that person, you can still call 911 or the police.
Take Measures to Avoid Future Problems
Make sure to mix up your daily routine a bit and insert a bit of unpredictability in the routes and streets you take when going to work and your home.
Be alert and on the ready as that person may still be on the lookout and patrolling the same areas in an attempt to find another victim.