The car attack is becoming a common occurrence. Last week a car was used to kill one and injure several during the protests in Charlottesville. Yesterday, At least 24 were killed by a car attack in Barcelona, Spain, according to The Telegraph.
This is not restricted to one group or another; these attacks are coming from all sides. Even the most unlikely places are dealing with these attacks. And the more of these attacks we see, the more we should understand.
Why are we seeing an increase in car attacks?
It might seem obvious that the car attacks are increasing because cars are easier to get than other weapons. However, there’s a bit more to it than that. Yes, in some cases, it might just be that simple. Someone has a car on hand and makes a quick decision, either out of fear or hatred, to attack people with what they have available.
But that isn’t what we’re seeing across the board. Many of these attacks are planned out and some even coordinated. This means that the people using these vehicles to cause harm are doing it for more reasons than just accessibility.
In fact, it has been reported that ISIS and other groups are encouraging this type of attack, highlighting the Nice car attack as an example of how effective they can be. This makes sense given the desired outcome.
Because these groups simply want to create fear and cause as much damage as possible, a vehicle is a perfect weapon. Terrorists use cars to kill many people at once while creating a sense of lost control amongst the public. People may feel better by asking their government to ban firearms, but they feel hopeless when something as necessary to their lives as a car is the weapon of choice.
Also, because it is much easier to get a vehicle, there is less risk of the attack being stopped in advance. Someone purchasing large amounts of ammunition or explosive materials may attract attention. Someone getting a car won’t attract any attention at all.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, it allows for the decentralization of attacks.
Our military is a very centralized, top-down type of organization. The military chain of command overseas each action taken by our soldiers. This allows us to hold our fighters accountable for their actions but limits their capabilities. Terrorist groups have no such need to hold their fighters accountable. They simply take claim for the actions they support and ignore the ones they don’t.
This allows them to encourage attacks without having to manage them. Thus, they can get some sort of lone wolf to carry out attacks without having to manage their activities. Community leaders can simply encourage attacks against a group and leave it to the unknown guy on the ground to carry out the attack.
I can’t overstate the importance of this. Many times since 9/11 we’ve heard about cutting off the head of the organization. This makes sense with heavily structured and centralized organization. But a highly-decentralized organization like the terror groups we face today can live on without their leadership. They simply need an idea to fight for.
The impact on the U.S.
I honestly think we’re going to begin to see more of these events in the future. Whether it comes from terrorist organizations or radicals with no ties to any organization at all, the success of these car attacks has been seen and it will be replicated. Last week we saw a protest turn deadly with a car attack. I see no reason to believe these events will not increase in the future.
Over the last decade, we have seen shooting after shooting. Schools, political rallies, and even the average workplace have been scenes of high profile shootings. As the car attack gains notoriety, I believe many of these acts of violence will switch to being done with vehicles.
The key deciding factor for the attacker will be the precision needed to carry out their attack. If high precision is desired, such as seems to have been the case in the UPS shooting where only 3 victims were shot as a group of 60 or so gathered, the firearm will still be the weapon of choice. In cases where discrimination is less important to the attacker, you may see the vehicle attack may be more common.
How to protect yourself from a car attack
One of the reasons this type of attack is becoming popular with terrorist is just how difficult it is to protect yourself. Despite that, there are some things you can do to protect yourself.
Avoid large crowds
It can be a lot of fun to join with a large crowd for concerts and celebrations. However, you need to know that these places are high-value targets for those wanting to create havoc and mass-casualties. In the U.S., enclosed events like concerts have been generally safe. It’s large crowds like we saw in the Boston bombing and recent protests that are at the most risk. Keep in mind that this may change as we’ve recently seen bombings in these types of gatherings elsewhere in the world.
Maintain Situational Awareness
Stories of people getting out of the way in recent car attacks highlight the importance one second can make. Those who were alert enough to see the vehicle coming in advance often had a chance to get out of the way. However, if your eyes and ears are focused on a phone, or anything else for that matter, those crucial seconds may be the difference between life and death.
I’ve written about being in what Jeff Cooper called Condition Orange. While you cannot sustain this level of high-alert for long periods of time, you may want to be at a higher level when moving through heavily congested areas or attending high-risk events.
Look for obstacles and barriers
If you are in a crowded place, look for existing obstacles and barriers that you can put between yourself and an attacker. This might include high curbs, streetlights, or barricades. While some of these items may not stop a vehicle, they may serve as a deterrent because the driver wants to move as quickly as possible to create the most damage. Anything solid you can put between you and a vehicle attack is an increased chance of survival. Identify the objects as you move on crowded streets and you’ll spend less time trying to decide where to go in the event of a car attack.
In today’s unpredictable world, you never know when or from where a threat will come. Make threat assessments a part of your regular routine and be prepared.
Update (01 Nov 2017): As expected, these types of attacks are continuing. Click here for more information on the New York vehicle attack.