January 22, 2013 - Safety while Driving

The United States Embassy has received several reports of thefts from moving vehicles driven by foreigners in the past few months.  In each case, cars were stopped in traffic or moving slowly and thieves reached in open windows or unlocked doors and stole purses, telephones, and a variety of other valuables from the unsuspecting motorist.  The thefts usually occur on poorly maintained roads which require driving at slow speed and elaborate maneuvering around potholes and drainage canals.  Criminals often throw rocks and cause diversions to distract drivers while simultaneously entering the passenger side of the vehicle to steal property.  Specifically, thieves are targeting Signal Hill Road (near the UNIPSIL Headquarters) in Western Freetown because it is a high-traffic area with poor road conditions, lack of street lights, and heavy foliage. 

Theft of property from vehicles may be reduced by following some precautions.   Please review this checklist with your family and use it as a baseline to evaluate your daily habits and improve your overall security awareness while driving in Freetown. 

AUTOMOBILE SECURITY

·         Always keep the doors locked and windows up.

·         Keep your bags and valuables from plain sight.

·         Try to avoid choke points in your daily travel and be wary of diversions.

·         In traffic, always attempt to leave space to maneuver.  Leave yourself an exit and be prepared to take evasive action at any time.

·         Utilize curbs, sidewalks, and medians as a way of escape.

·         Vary your routes and times to/from work – be unpredictable!

·         Check the interior and exterior of your vehicle for irregularities prior to getting in.

·         If another driver tries to force you to pull over or cuts you off, keep driving and try to get away.  Take note of the license plate number and a description of the car and driver (only if it does not place you in danger).

·         If you are involved in an accident and something does not seem normal, depart the area immediately.  Remember, some accidents could be a ruse designed to rob or carjack you.

·         Never pick-up hitchhikers.

·         If you are being followed or harassed by another driver, drive to the United States Embassy or try to find the nearest police station, hotel, restaurant, or other public facility from which you can call the local police. Never lead a person back to your home or stop and confront them.

·         Be aware of your surroundings.  Look ahead at what is taking place three blocks in front of you.

·         Be alert to motorcycles stopping next to your car, particularly if there are two riders.

·         Review your personal security plans; remain aware of your surroundings, including local events; and monitor local news stations for updates.  Maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security.

Remember, nothing you own or possess is worth risking your life, or the lives of loved ones and friends.  If ever confronted by criminals demanding your car, money, jewels, or other valuables, give it to them.   

We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Sierra Leone enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at www.Travel.State.Gov.  STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency.  If you don’t have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

Regularly monitor the State Department's website, where you can find current Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and the Worldwide Caution.  Read the Country Specific Information for Sierra Leone.  For additional information, refer to “A Safe Trip Abroad” on the State Department’s website

Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate for up-to-date information on travel restrictions.  You can also call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).  Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and download our free Smart Traveler iPhone App to have travel information at your fingertips.