Carjacking—a criminal attempting to steal your vehicle while you are present—is a scary proposition, particularly for women and those who might have children with them. How to avoid becoming a victim?
First, understand a little bit about carjacking and how it happens. Carjacking is a high-class felony because it always a violent crime (as opposed to grand theft auto, which is also a felony but a much less violent one). This means that anyone willing to carjack you is comfortable with using violence to get what he wants and he knows the risk he is undertaking, and he considers that risk worth it. This makes him more dangerous than your average petty thief.
Nationwide, most carjackings take place between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Common places are isolated ATMs, gas stations, car washes, parking lots and parking garages, highway exit and entry ramps, red lights, other places where people naturally stop or slow their cars, and your own driveway. Carjackers often work in groups, though you might not see the other members of the group. One person might distract you by asking a question while his partners circle around, or someone might have dropped off the carjacker and is waiting nearby.
First, always drive with your doors locked and your windows rolled at least partially up.
When you are coming to a temporary stop at a red light or coming off an exit ramp, do your best not to trap your own vehicle. You can do this by leaving enough space between you and the car in front of you that you’d be able to pull out or maneuver if you needed to.
Be wary of anyone who approaches your vehicle—this is not normal behavior anywhere, but certainly not at an intersection. Do not roll down your window to talk to them; crack the window an inch or two at the most.
Wear your seatbelt. If your door is locked and your seatbelt is on, a would-be carjacker is going to have a hard time getting the door open and yanking you out of your seat. He knows a seatbelt will slow down his access, and if he sees you wearing one, he just might choose another victim.
Carjackers use a variety of techniques to get you to stop your vehicle so they can take it from you by force. This might include flashing their lights as if to signal you that your vehicle has a problem, posing as a stranded motorist, or intentionally bumping your vehicle so they can assault you when you step out to exchange information.
Not that you are in the habit of doing this anyway, but don’t stop for a stranded motorist who appears to need help. I know it sounds cold and heartless, but doing so is a serious risk. Call for help from your cell phone and keep driving.
If you’re signaled that there’s something wrong with your vehicle or you are involved in a fender-bender, use the context clues to decide how to proceed. What time of day or night is it? How isolated are you? If you have any reason to be suspicious, stay inside the vehicle with the doors locked and the windows up, and drive to the nearest police station or fire station.
Gas stations, car washes, parking lots and your own driveway are the most common carjacking spots. Try to stick to well-lit areas with open visibility, where you can see anyone approaching you from far off.
When you approach your vehicle, have your keys or your fob in your hand and walk with purpose, practicing situational awareness to note what’s going on around you. When you get into the car, immediately lock the doors. Try to avoid dawdling in the car; just drive away, particularly if you’re in a spot that doesn’t have good visibility.
Avoid allowing someone to approach you or your car.
If it Happens
If someone does approach you when you’re at or in your vehicle, move! Run around the car to create space between you and them, or if you’re already in the car and they have not yet pulled a gun on you, drive. Your car isn’t bulletproof, but it is both a weapon and a means of escape.
Resistance is not going to work well with a carjacker, because he’s already decided he’s willing to be as violent as he needs to be in order to get what he wants. If he has already pulled a gun, it’s probably too late to draw your own, and the same is true if he’s got a knife and is close enough to use it. All you can do now is give him the car. Trying to fight or argue your way out of this is likely to get you hurt.
Don’t just hand him the keys—throw them. Specifically, throw them hard, ideally past his head so that he has to turn around to go get them. Then you immediately start running in the opposite direction. Now he has what he wants and you have created distance between you; hopefully he’ll take the car and go.
Of course, that strategy is out the window if you have kids strapped into the backseat. At that point, you are going to have to decide if you should beg him to let you get your kids out, try to drive away in spite of his weapon, or just fight like a mama bear to protect your cubs. You might end up with a combination of all three options.
At the end of the day, it’s just a car. Carjackers are resource predators, and if they get what they want, that’s usually the end of their interaction with you. Let him have the vehicle.