What is Carjacking and Why Would Someone Want to Do It?
Carjacking is the forceful theft of automobiles from their drivers. Often a victim is robbed of other valuables, abducted and/or raped.
According to FBI statistics, nearly 1.7 million vehicles valued at over $8 billion US were stolen last year. Arrests were made in less that 15% of these thefts. Some of the cars were cut up for parts, others were stolen and exported and sold. Many are stolen simply because the thief wants to take a "joy ride".
Carjacking, like many crimes, is a crime of opportunity - a quick way to get a vehicle for cash, a getaway, a "right of passage" for young criminals... Carjackings have recently made headlines nationwide; media interest may have created 'copycat' carjackers looking for the thrill. With all of the auto theft devices available,
What do Carjackers Look for, and What are Typical Techniques?
'Golden Opportunities' - intersections controlled by stop lights or signs (where vehicles are stopped and drivers' attention is focused in front of them); garages and parking lots, shopping malls and grocery stores; self-serve gas stations and car washes, and ATMs are common targets.
"Bump and Rob" - a car, usually with a driver and at least one passenger, will bump into your car. You get out to check the damage and exchange information. Someone from the other car jumps in your car and drives off.
'Stranded Motorist' - the carjacker takes advantage of a victim's desire to help gets you to stop, open your window or door thus allowing them to take your car.
How Do I Protect Myself?
- Consider purchasing a cellular phone. You may be able to locate an inexpensive plan through your insurance agency, automobile agency, etc. Try for an emergency-only plan; some companies offer a low-rate plan if you don't use your phone for other phone calls. Keep your phone on you at all times for use in any emergency.
- If someone bumps into your car, look around before you get out. If you have a car phone or cell phone, call 911 and notify the police; give them a description of the vehicle that bumped you. Stay in your car if possible and keep the doors locked and windows rolled up.Make sure there are other cars around, check out the car that rear-ended you and who is in it. If the situation makes you uneasy, note the license plate number and description of the car, and ask the driver to follow you. Go to the nearest police station or to a busy well-lit area. If you do get out of your car, take your keys (and purse and wallet) with you and stay alert. If you sense something is wrong, leave or alert other drivers. Call 911 for help.
- Know the area you travel; know alternate routes, note where you frequently stop and wait. what traffic lane offers you greatest flexibility to react. Know where 'safe havens' are located.
- Have some plans for reacting to a carjacking - how could you safely get away, how would you react?
- At traffic lights and stop signs, be aware of who is around you, particularly to the sides and the rear of your vehicle. Watch for people approaching your vehicle.
- When you are stopped at ATMs, malls, or other places, be aware of who is around you and be aware of the possibility of being blocked in by another vehicle.
- Park in well-lit areas, and avoid remote locations, especially in shopping malls.
- Before you even enter your car, be alert to any activity near your car. In malls and large parking lots, where potential thieves could be hiding behind nearby cars. Pay attention to your surroundings. Look in and around your car. Have your keys in hand before you arrive at your vehicle to avoid fumbling and creating an opportunity for someone to overtake you.
- When you get in your car, immediately lock the doors and be sure the windows are up.
- Keep your windows and doors locked when you drive.
- When you stop at a traffic signal or stop sign, leave some space between you and the vehicle in front of you so you have some room to leave quickly, if you need it.
- Even if you need to go through a red light (after checking for approaching traffic), do so - if you alert a nearby police officer, all the better.
- Be suspicious of strangers asking for directions, change, or handing out flyers. If you feel uncomfortable, pull out carefully and leave the area, even if it means running a red light or stop sign.
- If your car becomes disabled, pull to the side of the road and wait for police to arrive, or, if possible, drive slowly to a secure location or a police station. If someone offers to help, ask them to call the police. If you have a car phone, call the police as soon as you run into trouble.
- If you suspect you are being followed, never drive home. Change directions, go to a safe area - ideally a police station - or call the police.
- When you exit your vehicle, look around you before turning off the ignition and unlocking the doors. Lock your car when you leave it.
- Be especially wary in late night hours; national statistics show most carjackings take place between 10pm and 2am.
- On campus, drive to Campus Police, or use an emergency phone to request assistance. Dial 1-911 from any campus phone.
What if it Happens to Me?
- Don't argue, and give up your car, especially if you are threatened with a gun or other weapon. Your life is worth far more than the car. Remember that your car is not bullet proof; if you feel it is safe to accelerate to get away, then do so, but keep your safety in mind.
- Get away from the area as quickly as possible.
- If you can safely do so, sound your horn repeatedly. If you have an alarm, press the duress button. This may discourage our attacker.
- Try to get a good description of the carjacker. Note sex, race, age, weight, height, hair and eye color, distinguishing features, and clothing.
- Report the crime as soon as possible to the police.
Where can I get more information?
There are many resources online; do a search for carjacking, and you will find many cases dealing with carjacking reported in newspapers and media online. Go to your car insurer's web page. Also, feel free to stop by or call our office for more suggestions, hints and help.