You had to stay late after work to finish a report for tomorrow's big meeting. With it now finished and on your boss's desk, you can finally head home. As you walk towards your car parked in the deserted parking lot, you think about how good it feels to have all your tasks completed and behind you. Suddenly, you feel something pressed against your lower back and hear the voice of a man say, "Do what I say or I'll kill you!"
When you reach your car, the man demands your keys. Scared and confused, you put them in his hand. As he unlocks your car, you see the gun he had pressed against your back. He yells to hand over your purse. You do exactly what he says. The man now orders you to lay face down on the ground. Thoughts of being shot or worse and left to die fill your mind, but you quickly lie on the ground as instructed. As you lay there with your eyes closed, wondering if these will be your last moments of life, you hear the engine of your car start. After the man speeds off with your car, leaving you unharmed, you run to the safety of your office and call 911.
This is the scenario of a carjacking, a serious and potentially life-threatening form of auto theft. In a carjacking, thieves confront their victims and use some type of force or threat to rob them of their vehicles. Sometimes the victim is left behind unharmed. Other times victims are kidnapped and taken to another location. If lucky, the victims are released unharmed. But in some cases, victims are subjected to even worse crimes, such as assault, rape, and murder.
The History of Carjacking
Although carjacking has been around for many decades, it wasn't until the mid 1980s that this violent crime caught the attention of the media. The word carjacking is derived from the word hijacking, where a person is forcibly removed from an occupied motor vehicle. In the 1960`s through the early 1980`s there were a rash of semi-trailer truck hijackings. The assailant would typically steal the pay-load and leave the driver unharmed. The term hijacking was often used for this type of vehicle abduction, which, in most cases, excluded kidnapping of the driver, and concentrated on the theft of the load, rather than the vehicle itself.
Decades later, carjackings were typically depicted as unprovoked violent attacks that came out of nowhere. Drivers report being pulled out of their cars and thrown to the ground. Some were even punched, kicked, and pistol whipped. But some of the most terrifying experiences of all were when carjackers had taken off with a car with the owner's child still in it. With the heightened publicity, carjacking soon became a copycat crime, as it made stealing cars and people's money and other personal belongings a lot easier.
The other reason carjackings are so popular is due to the fact that car alarm systems and anti-theft devices have advanced so much. Stealing a car the old-fashioned way has become more difficult with attention-getting car alarms and locking devices in place. And it seems that the more advanced our technology becomes, the higher our risk of being carjacked.
When a criminal needs a car to pull off another crime, he will often prefer a car that he can get a set of keys to instead of a car he has to steal by breaking a window or prying open the ignition. This type of criminal poses the highest risk to carjacking victims, as they are usually armed with a gun or a knife. Their only concern is taking possession of your car—even if it means having to injure or kill you.
Over the years, the prevalence of carjacking has been monitored through the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), a phone survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The most current report reflects carjackings for the United States during the period of 1993 to 2002. Highlights from the report include the following:
Statistically speaking, tracking the occurrences of carjacking is not an easy task. This is because some police departments don't have a criminal code for carjacking. Instead, they charge the crime as either robbery, auto theft, aggravated assault, etc. And since carjacking is not reported as a standalone crime in the Uniform Crime Reports issued by the FBI, the NCVS survey is really the only source of data presently available.
Where and When Carjackings Occur
A carjacking can happen anywhere, anytime. But the highest incidents of carjackings occur in large, heavily populated cities. According to the NCVS report, 44% of carjackings occur in an open area, such as along the street, and 24% occur in garages or parking lots or near commercial areas, such as malls, gas stations, restaurants, office buildings, etc. Carjackings often occur when a driver is stopped at a light or intersection, with carjackers laying in wait in another nearby vehicle.
Most carjackings seem to occur more frequently at night, with NCVS reporting this occurrence as high as 68%. This is most likely due to it being much easier to use the night as a cover while the thief waits for a victim. Out of those nightly occurrences, 42% of the carjackings were successfully carried out by the thief.
Some carjackers will purposely use another vehicle to bump into the back of your car, in hopes you will pull over and get out to look for damage. Criminals know that we've been taught to get out and exchange insurance information, no matter how minor the accident. This makes for a perfect setup for a carjacking. So be vigilant!
Carjackings have traumatized the lives of many over the years, and they continue to do so today. As a result, carjacking survivors are often left with constant fear every time they get behind the wheel. Some victims spend years in professional counseling due to continuous nightmares, anxiety and fear. Others refuse to ever drive again.
Carjacking is a very serious crime. To reduce your chances of becoming a carjacking victim, always be on alert whenever you are exiting and entering your car, paying close attention to your surroundings.
For tips on reducing your risks, refer to my safety article "Carjacking: Tips for Reducing Your Risk of Becoming a Victim."