Vehicle & Personal Locators: Staying Safe When You’re Working Alone

By Mary Oquendo

It wasn’t just the thought of going off the road, but the fact that at any given point in my day, no one other than myself knew where I was going or where I had been. That was a scary thought.

One cold, snowy day a couple of years back, I was driving down the aptly named Long Mountain Road. This long and mountainous road was buffeted on both sides by packed snow. It was effectively keeping me on the road as I frequently brushed up against the snowbanks, as driving conditions were slick. I glance off to the side and, laughing, thought if I slide off the road into the gully, my white van won’t be found until spring. Oh crap. No one knows where I am.

I needed to remedy this quickly. It wasn’t just the thought of going off the road, but the fact that at any given point in my day, no one other than myself knew where I was going or where I had been. That was a scary thought.

There are both low and high tech options to overcome this problem.

Low tech is simply making a copy of your schedule and leaving it where a trusted employee/significant other/friend has access to it. I take a photo of the week’s schedule and text it to my hubby. The added benefit is if I forget my appointment book or (gasp) lose it, I can still access my schedule by going through my texts. But if you go missing, the police have a way to track your movements.

High tech involves installing a GPS vehicle locator on your car/van along with the corresponding phone app to track it. GPS vehicle locators are relatively inexpensive. Some are easy enough to mount on your own, while others need to be installed by qualified technicians.

Whether you mount it on your own or hire someone to do it, you will need to purchase a monthly service plan to monitor your vehicle. Many GPS vehicle locator manufacturers offer bundled packages. But did you know that cell providers such as Verizon and AT&T may offer it as well?

In addition to knowing exactly where your vehicle is, they can also offer a live view GPS, track speed, pinpoint the location and time spent at any given location, roadside assistance, and even rate the driver. As this may help in recovering stolen vehicles, a talk with your insurance agent may help lower premiums.

That’s great. My vehicle can be recovered, but what about me?

While most personal GPS trackers are designed for pets and kids, the upside is they are small and can fit in a pocket or sewn into a smock. They are dependent upon battery power and require a monthly service plan as well.

Outdoor sport retailers such as Cabela’s, REI, Eastern Mountain Sports and others sell personal locator beacons. When they are activated, usually by push button, they emit a registered distress signal particular to the unit.

There are three different types of beacons; EPIRB’s (maritime), ELT’s (aviation), and PLB’s (hand held personal units.) They are larger than personal GPS trackers. Some require a monthly service and others do not. When activated, the distress call goes to the local Search and Rescue Team in your area. As they rely on satellites, they are not dependent upon cell service.

The locator should always be kept charged. It’s not something you want to play with or test out as a specialized team including dogs may appear on your doorstep and send you a bill for a false distress signal.

There are also emergency beacon apps that can be downloaded to your smart phones. The three apps recommended by tech bloggers include Silent Beacon, Lifeline Response, and bSafe. They are free but offer upgradable options including small personal connected devices. They are available for both Android and iPhones.

If you have Google as your operating system on your phone, they offer Google Trusted Contacts. You can designate someone to know your whereabouts at all times. But be aware—your Trusted Contact will always know where you’re at or at least know where your phone is.

Samsung has Samsung Safety Assistance on Galaxy phones. You can send out a distress signal to a designated emergency contact.

iPhone also offers an emergency  distress option. But access varies based on the model. To find out how to activate it on yours visit: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208076.

Regardless of your phone or operating system, make sure your designated contact is aware you have chosen them. And all phone apps and distress options depend on cell coverage and battery life.

In doing research for this article, I was pretty excited to see some very lovely GPS tracker jewelry, but they seem to go out of business fairly quickly. I was bummed about that.

Whether you choose low or high tech options, free or monthly service, you can replace that ‘Oh Crap’ moment with piece of mind instead. ✂

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