Vehicle robbery is by no means a new crime, nor is it sweeping the nation in epidemic proportions. Vehicle owners have been victims of this crime for decades. The term "carjacking" was coined by the news media. The term has raised fear levels out of proportion with the actual probability of becoming a victim. Realistically, this is a crime of low probability, but potentially high consequences.
Being the victim of a "carjacking" can be dangerous, even deadly. Experts theorize improvements in vehicle alarm systems, locking devices, and other anti-car theft technology have made it more difficult to steal cars using traditional, surreptitious methods. Now suspects take the vehicle, keys, and other items of value from the victim while the victim is present.
"Carjackings" can happen anywhere; in a parking lot, on a street or freeway, or in one’s own driveway. Never wait for a potentially dangerous situation to occur. Periodically perform mental exercises and think about what you would do in this personal safety situation. Follow your instincts. If you feel you are in danger, react. Your personal safety is the first priority in a time of emergency. Do anything you can to draw attention to yourself and attempt to flee the area.
Suspects utilize specific criteria to select their victims or targets. Suspects focus on people who are unaware or unprepared. Whether driving, or walking to your vehicle, you can significantly increase your personal safety and reduce the risk of becoming a victim with the proper attitude.
The attitude you convey while in or approaching your vehicle can have a disparaging effect on potential attackers. Walk and drive purposefully, with confidence. Give the appearance that you are totally aware of your surroundings. Be aware of what is going on around you; the people, the total environment. Street criminals prefer to avoid people displaying this demeanor. Following is a list of things to do to reduce the risk of becoming a "carjacking" victim:
- When there is an emergency not requiring 9-1-1, spare change for a phone call can save the day. Keep the spare change with you at all times and keep important phone numbers in your wallet or purse.
- Know the area in which you are travelling. Take the time to learn the locations of police and fire stations and emergency rooms. Leave a written itinerary with family or friends including the expected time of departure and arrival. Call to announce your arrival, or any changes in your plans.
- When travelling out of town, plan all trips carefully. Carry maps with routes and destinations clearly marked. Service your vehicle regularly to ensure it is mechanically sound. It is much safer to travel on main roads during daylight hours. Never pick up strangers, under any circumstances, and keep your doors locked and windows closed at all times. Never drive with less than a 1/4 of a tank of gasoline on short trips. Never drive with less than a 1/2 of a tank of gasoline on long trips.
- When possible, drive in the lane nearest the center of the road to distance any would-be pedestrian attacker from your vehicle. Drive on well-lighted, well-traveled streets. Avoid shortcuts that take you on dark, isolated streets. Do not drive wearing expensive jewelry. Do not leave other valuable items in view. Lock valuables in the trunk.
- When stopped in traffic, leave sufficient space between your vehicle and any vehicle in front of yours. If someone approaches in a threatening manner, the open space will allow you to move forward or leave the location. Do not stop directly along side a vehicle in an adjacent lane. If possible, stop 1/2 vehicle length offset, keeping your vehicle in gear.
- Do not park next to vans or other high profile vehicles that could conceal a suspect. When returning to your vehicle, have your keys in hand and be ready to unlock and enter your vehicle without delay. As you approach your vehicle, check from a distance for any suspicious activity along your path. Look under your vehicle from a distance. Upon arriving at your vehicle, look in the back seat area for any secluded intruder. If you have a two-door vehicle, leave the seat backs pushed forward so you can easily inspect the rear area. Most importantly, if you have suspicions, request a security escort, or walk with other people to where your vehicle is parked. Walk together and keep an eye on each other until everyone is safely locked inside their vehicles.
- When parking in your garage, leave your vehicle lights on and inspect the surroundings as you close your garage door. Automatic door openers are recommended. Once the automatic garage door is closed, only then unlock your door and exit the vehicle.
- If your vehicle breaks down on the road, attempt to move your vehicle to a safe location. Activate the emergency flashers and stay locked inside until help arrives. If someone stops to offer assistance, request they summon help from an authorized emergency roadside service or law enforcement.
- If the driver of a vehicle with no markings motions you to pull over to the side of the road, do not pull over. Keep driving to the nearest open business or where other people are present. However, comply immediately when directed by an officer in a marked vehicle. Nevertheless, if you sense anything out of the ordinary, you may request to see identification. Law enforcement officials should understand this type of concern.
- If you feel you are being followed by another vehicle, do not drive home. Drive to the nearest police or fire station. If one is not nearby, drive to an open business and honk your horn. Call the police immediately and give them the suspect and vehicle description. This will alert the police and could possibly assist in solving other similar crimes.
- If you are involved in a minor traffic accident and suspect suspicious circumstances, do not check the damage in a remote area or on the freeway. Motion the other driver to follow you to the nearest police or fire station or open business to exchange information. In all situations, immediately note the driver and vehicle description.
- If you are attacked and the suspect has a weapon and demands your valuables or vehicle, comply. Your property can be replaced or recovered later. In some cases "carjackers" have abducted their victims along with their vehicles. These cases require in-depth mental preparedness. There is no cut and dried security advice for drivers threatened with abduction. In these situations, the attacker’s actions and victim abilities vary widely. Taking action is a personal decision. If pleading for your release, and all other measures fail, do everything within your power to escape.
- Once you and your attacker are in your vehicle, the "carjacker" has total control. There is no way to predict if the "carjacker" will harm you. One tactic you might consider, if you are outside your vehicle is to fall flat on the ground. The "carjacker" may not want to take the time to force you inside the vehicle.
- If you are inside your vehicle, consider offering a credit or cash withdrawal card to entice the attacker. If accepted, this may give you the opportunity to flee.
Vehicle Robbery Prevention - You Can Make The Difference
- Keep doors locked and windows up;
- When stopped, leave room to maneuver and escape;
- Driving in the center lane makes you a more difficult robbery target;
- Be wary of strangers approaching you. Trust your instincts and drive away when you feel threatened;
- Keep valuables out of sight;
- Park in lots or garages with attendants;
- Park in well-lighted areas;
- Park in the open. Never let a high profile vehicle or truck hide a robber;
- Be aware of your surroundings when walking to and from your vehicle;
- Walk with other people when possible;
- Walk with purpose and stay alert;
- Approach your vehicle with your key in hand;
- Look in and around your car before entering; and
- If the "carjacker" is armed, don't resist, give up your vehicle and get away as soon as possible.
- What if you are followed, or involved in a suspicious accident?
§ If you have a cellular phone, call the police and advise them of the situation;
§ If you suspect you are being followed, immediately drive to a police, sheriff or fire station or to busy area;
§ DO NOT drive home; and
§ In both cases, write down the license number and description of the suspects. If you are involved in a suspicious traffic accident, do not inspect the damage in a remote area. Motion for the other driver to follow you to the nearest police station or busy, well-lighted location to exchange information. Use your emergency flashers at the same time.
- If you get robbed, give up your vehicle and leave the scene immediately. Do everything you can to avoid being kidnapped.
- Consider having a vehicle tracking system installed in your vehicle. Your vehicle can be tracked immediately and an arrest or recovery of property is more likely.
- Consider installing an alarm system that will shut down the vehicle engine after a few seconds or minutes. This allows the "carjacker" to drive away until the engine turns off. The suspect will abandon the vehicle when it fails to restart.
There are many preparatory actions one can take to prevent "carjacking." Behavior Modification and mental preparedness are key to its prevention. This information is meant to contribute to your personal security, in and around your vehicle. You can never be too careful, prepared or aware. Share this information with family and friends. Schedule family discussions, ensure everyone is aware and prepared in event of a "carjacking."