What is carjacking?
Each country has its own legal definition of carjacking or hijacking as it is also commonly known. In essence it is a form of aggravated robbery where the intent is to take or attempt to take a motor vehicle from another person by use of force or intimidation. It is a serious threat to our personal safety because the thief uses force and fear to rob our car from us. Sometimes the car owner or other occupants are kidnapped during a carjacking, and if lucky will be dropped off nearby unharmed. The worst-case scenario occurs when you are transported to a secondary crime scene, which is usually more dangerous than the original confrontation. Those not so lucky victims have suffered other crimes like rape, aggravated assault, and even homicide.
Carjackers have unknowingly driven off with infants still in the backseat of the car, leaving behind a screaming and emotionally distressed parent. Other drivers have been violently pulled out of their seats and left lying on the road, terrified by what just occurred.
The crime of carjacking can be traumatic to our everyday lives because it creates fear in the common act of driving a car. Victims of carjacking have reported being unable to drive a car again while others required months of therapy. Others have become so hypersensitive that embarrassing and dangerous situations have arisen in response to their fear when someone unwittingly approached their car on foot.
Why does carjacking prevail?
Common auto 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 and prevalence of new anti-theft devices and alarm systems, steering wheel locking systems, chip-integrated ignition switches, engine cutoff devices etc. car thieves were forced to seek an easier alternative. Unfortunately for us law abiding citizens, poorly motivated and unskilled 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 carjack 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 carjacker
Crime statistics have shown that most carjackers are young adult males. Carjackers may occasionally operate alone but mostly they operate in groups. They often have no easily identifiable physical characteristics, they dress and look like any other person. Carjackers 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 carjacking occur
Carjackers, like street robbers, 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
- Car parking lots
Modus operandi of carjackers
Carjackers, like all criminals, seek easy opportunity. They want to have the best chance of success. Carjacking 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 carjacker until they appeared at their car door. Talking on a cellphone whilst driving is almost guaranteed to make you a preferred target.
Carjackers 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 carjacking’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 carjackers 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.
Carjackers 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 carjacking 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)
- Butterfiles in te stomach sesation
- Trembling hands/legs
- Sweaty palms
- Dry throat
Now there is no longer any doubt, like it or not, you aree 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 areprepared 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 faced by a carjacker:
- 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
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