One of the most fascinating places in a nature reserve to watch animal behavior is at a watering hole. This is the place where dominance is established, where competition is at its most severe during periods of drought but also where predators ambush their prey who are driven to the area by their instinctual need to survive.
It is relatively easy for predators to ambush their prey at a waterhole in that the animals are distracted by their need to quench their thirst. For a moment they have to relax their vigilance and lower their heads to be able to drink water. It is during that few seconds that predators often strike.
One of the most prevailing violent crimes in South-Africa is car hijacking. Car hijackers commit their crimes where drivers are forced to stop. They ambush their victims just like predators ambush their prey at the waterhole.
What is car hijacking?
Each country has its own legal definition of car hijacking. Car hijacking is a form of aggravated robbery where the intent is to unlawfully and intentionally take a motor vehicle from another person by use of force or intimidation. Sometimes the car owner or other occupants are kidnapped during a car hijacking. If they are lucky, they will be dropped off unharmed. The unlucky victims have suffered other crimes like rape, aggravated assault and even murder.
Car hijackers have driven off with infants strapped in the backseat of the car, leaving behind a hysterical parent. Other drivers have been violently pulled out of their seats and left lying on the road in severe shock.
The crime of car hijacking can be extremely traumatic to our everyday lives because it creates fear to do normal everyday things like driving a car to work or to a shopping center.
Why does car hijacking prevail?
Common vehicle theft with the intent of selling it to a willing buyer has been with us for a very long time. Due to the increasing sophistication of new anti-theft devices and alarm systems, steering wheel locking systems and engine cut-off devices, car thieves were forced to seek an easier alternative. Car thieves have adapted by becoming more sophisticated and violent to get the cars they need and don’t think twice about using force against us. Weapons and even very realistic looking toy guns have become freely available and robbers have realized that fear and intimidation result in instant compliance from most victims.
Sometimes criminals will hijack a vehicle for use in another crime like armed robbery or for a drive-by shooting. These carjackers prefer to have a set of car keys and not have a visibly smashed window or damaged ignition switch that can be easily spotted by the police. This type of car thief is the most dangerous because they are usually heavily armed and are not concerned with your welfare.
Profiling the car hijacker
Crime statistics have shown that most car hijackers are young adult males. Car-hijackers may occasionally operate alone but mostly they operate in groups. They often have no easily identifiable physical characteristics in that they dress and look like any other person. Car-hijackers have no feelings for their victims, they consider their victims as easy opportunity. They are motivated by greed and the opportunity to make easy money. They rely on fear and intimidation to get the job done. They are skilled at violence and will not hesitate to use extreme violence to get what they came for. They are very dangerous but not fearless. They do not want to get caught and will do what is necessary to safely get away. That is the reason why they shoot victims who pose a perceived threat or shoot at police/armed response officers when responding.
Where does car hijacking occur
Car hijackers control the Time, Place and Method of Attack. They decide when where and how the attack will happen. The most common areas where hijackings occur are:
- Residential driveways
- Intersections/stop signs/traffic lights
- Car parking lots
Modus operandi of car hijackers
Car hijackers, like all other criminals, seek easy opportunity. They want to have the best chance of success. Car hijacking depends on the car owner being inattentive to their surroundings. This is often referred to as the element of surprise. Most victims say they never saw the car hijacker until they appeared at their car door. Talking on a cellphone whilst driving is almost guaranteed to make you a preferred target.
Car hijackers often operate in organized groups where each group member has a definite role to play i.e. lookout, stolen vehicle driver, getaway vehicle driver, gunmen etc.
In many cases car hijacking’s occur at busy intersections where vehicles are forced to slow down or stop. Attackers may pull up behind, next to or in front of the target vehicle, jump out and threaten victims with weapons, forcing them out of the vehicle. In cases where the car hijackers perceive a threat of being caught, they will take the owner of the vehicle or one of the occupants with them to reduce the risk of being shot by police/response officers.
Another common tactic at intersections is for a pedestrian to point to the wheels of the vehicle indicating to the driver that something is wrong. As soon as the driver opens the door or gets out of the vehicle, the attacker(s) strike. Street Vendors may also knock on the passenger window, thereby distracting the driver’s attention and affording the attacker the opportunity to approach the driver side of the vehicle unnoticed.
Car hijackers frequently follow their victims’ home and ambush them at driveways by boxing them in with another vehicle while they are waiting for an electronic gate or garage door to open.
Another common tactic is to ambush drivers at gates to their homes by hiding behind vegetation or a wall. The moment the driver gets out of the vehicle a weapon is used to intimidate the driver to hand over the vehicle.
Your first line of defense should always be to avoid car hijacking by making yourself a hard target, someone who is rejected during a bad guy’s selection process.
Any conflict has three phases or stages: Awareness, Alarm, and Action.
During the Awareness phase, you stay constantly alert as to where you are, what you’re doing, and what’s going on around you. You should be in this stage all the time, in an effort to prevent an attack from occurring. But your awareness also allows you to realize as early as possible that an attack is indeed imminent, hopefully before the situation gets completely out of control.
Signs you are in the Awareness phase:
- Where are am I?
- Who is around me?
- Noting environmental conditions
- Maintaining personal security level
- Looking for suspicious circumstances
- Listening to your gut feeling
Once you become aware that something just is not right, you enter the Alarm phase. Even if you do not know yet exactly what is wrong, or whether there is really anything wrong at all, you enter a state of heightened awareness. This is your body’s way of preparing to deal with a crisis. This is also a good time to shift course, and hopefully avoid the potential conflict.
Signs you are in the Alarm phase:
- Feeling that something is not right
- Recognizing a potential threat
- Thinking accelerates
- Auditory & visual exclusion (tunnel vision) occurs
- Decision-making ability is impaired
- Shortness of breath
- Adrenaline rush (fight or flight)
- Butterflies in the stomach sensation
- Trembling hands/legs
- Sweaty palms
- Dry throat
Now there is no longer any doubt, like it or not, you are under attack. Whether it is a verbal, mental or physical altercation, you have to take action. Your wellbeing is at stake, maybe even your life. Whether or not you are prepared to respond appropriately and effectively will determine the outcome of this situation.
Possible responses to the Action phase:
- Physically remove from situation
- Panic/paralysis (fear/giving up)
- Counterattack (instinctual)
Once you have entered into any of these three phases of self-defense, your mind and body are warning you that you are now escalating into a possible criminal act or crisis situation. By recognizing a potentially harmful situation in the Awareness or Alarm stage, you can likely avoid the Action stage. Remember, this is your body’s natural defense system, so listen to it.
To reduce your risk of being carjacked, I have listed some commonsense steps below:
- Always park in well-lighted areas, if you plan to arrive/leave after dark
- Don’t park in isolated or visually obstructed areas near walls or heavy foliage
- Use valet parking or an attended garage, if you’re a woman driving alone
- As you walk to your car be alert to suspicious persons sitting in cars
- Ask for a security escort if you are alone at a shopping center
- As you approach your vehicle, look under, around, and inside your car
- If safe, open the door, enter quickly, and lock the doors
- Don’t be a target by turning your back while loading packages into the car
- Make it your habit to always start your car and drive away immediately
- Teach and practice with your children to enter and exit the car quickly
On the Road:
- Maintain consistent situational awareness. Frequently check your rearview and side mirrors to see if you are being followed.
- In the city, always drive with your car doors locked and windows rolled up
- When stopped in traffic, leave room ahead to maneuver and escape, if necessary
- If you are bumped in traffic, by young males, be suspicious of the accident
- Be especially vigilant at busy intersections, stop signs or traffic lights where you are forced to stop. Watch out for young males loitering in the area (handing out flyers, etc.)
- Beware of the Good Samaritan who offers to repair your car or a flat tire. It’s okay to get help, just be alert
- When approaching your home be especially vigilant. Do not park in front of your motorized gate while waiting for it to open. Press the remote as you approach the driveway and do not turn into the driveway until the gate is open. This will allow you to drive off if approached by a suspicious vehicle or person.
- When leaving your home do not park in front of the gate and wait for the gate to close. Drive into the road and wait for the gate to close to allow you the opportunity to escape if necessary.
- Trim away any vegetation at gates or areas where you have to disembark/get into your vehicle to eliminate hiding space for carjackers.
- Ensure that any area where you have to get into or out of your vehicle is properly illuminated at night to assist you to detect persons who may be waiting to ambush you.
When confronted by a car hijacker:
- If you are ever confronted by an armed carjacker don’t resist. Give up your keys or money if demanded without resistance. Do not argue with the attackers, do not make eye contact, do not threaten or make moves that could cause the attacker to panic and attack you. Lie down on the ground if ordered to do so. Show the palms of your hands to indicate that you are not a threat or that you are not carrying a weapon. Remember: Life over Property. Always. You can replace your car but not your life. Don’t argue, fight or chase the robber(s). You can be seriously injured or even killed.
- Never agree to be kidnapped. Drop the cars keys and run and scream for help.
- If you are forced to drive, consider crashing your car near a busy intersection to attract attention so bystanders can come to your aid and call the police.
- After the incident, call the police immediately to report the crime and provide detailed information
On social media there are often video clips where victims managed to escape hijacking situations by driving away when they spot the attackers. This means that their situational awareness was good and they took the option of escaping the situation. Taking into consideration that criminal predators are by nature lazy and want the easiest opportunity, escaping is a great option if it is safe to do so. They will most likely not follow you and try to attack you again. You just took their biggest advantage away from the. Their ability to surprise you and their ability to control the time, place and method of attack.
But then, I often see videos of victims who become aggressive and try to fight the attackers or run over them with their vehicle. Sometimes they are lucky and manage to escape and other times they die in the process. Why do I say the ones that manage to escape are lucky? Let’s quickly do a little exercise. Get a friend or family member and stand in front of them. Request your friend or family member to hold his/her hands ready to clap them together. Stand in the same position in front of them facing them. Tell them when you clap, they must try and clap their hands faster than you. Do this a couple of times with different people and see how they are always slower than you. Every single time. Why is this? Because action is always faster than reaction. Now let’s take the action vs reaction principle to the situation where the victim became aggressive or try to run over the attacker with his vehicle. The attacker holds a gun pointed at the victim. Which action will be faster? The pulling of the trigger or the fist to the head? The pulling of the trigger or picking up speed and driving over the attacker? My logic tells me the pulling of the trigger will always be faster. Sure, the attacker may decide to run or he may miss the target when shooting. But do you really want to take that chance? For a Car? Which you are going to damage in any way or which you can replace? Not a very good idea in my opinion. If you are really so desperate to protect your car, work a bit harder on improving your awareness and listen to your internal alarm. If that is still too much work for you, upgrade your insurance policy. Do not risk your life for a car.
For More Information
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