How defensive driving techniques would help you avoid being a ‘car-jacking’ victim

With the increasing frequency of car-jacking incidents all of us should perhaps consider taking better precautions, understanding the hazards of where we are going, recognising potential threats before they can escalate and knowing the correct action to take should we need to quickly evade danger.

Clearly this is not anything you want to experience, especially when you have your family on board; that said, if you own a prestigious car it is more likely you could be involved in a “car-napping”, as it’s also becoming known. 

Driving courses covering the skills needed to prepare you for such an awful event are available; some are more extreme than others. These include surveillance and threat detection, evasive action skills and anti-ambush manoeuvres in moving vehicles, in all weathers and various types of road surfaces. 

This sort of training will stand you in good stead should you drive in downtown Johannesburg or Sao Paulo in Brazil, but what is the best course of practical action for drivers here in the UK?

What you can do: practical tips to stay safe

  • Firstly, car-jackings are known to occur more often in inner city areas noted for high crime rates, most often where vehicles regularly stop such as at traffic lights or known bottlenecks. 
  • Tactics used by the thugs include bumping a victim’s car so that when they stop and get out of their vehicle to speak with the other driver (who incidentally might be feigning injury in order to pursue a fraudulent whiplash claim), an accomplice jumps in victim’s car and drives away. In such an instance, few drivers would have the nous to remove the keys from the ignition before getting out.
  • So it pays to be aware of cars behind that are clearly following you, as they may at some point intend to block you in a driveway or cul de sac in a bid to steal your car if you get out. This applies even if you are flashed to pull over, perhaps by an unmarked police car. Keep your doors locked and windows shut until they have showed you some official identification.
  • Also be wary of cars flashing their lights and occupants waving at you hoping you will believe there is a fault with your car. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t stop.
  • If driving in a potentially risky location, get in the habit of locking your doors and keeping the windows closed, and always leave at least two car lengths between you and the vehicle directly ahead so you can quickly manoeuvre around a blocking vehicle if necessary. Don’t get boxed in.
  • Constantly use your mirrors and note what is around you, all the while remembering that non-confrontation is always the best response.
  • Treat with caution all unusual roadblocks, hang back at traffic lights where groups of youths have congregated and consider rerouting quickly if they are standing in the road looking at you. Beware of assisting a broken-down vehicle on a lonely road, particularly if you are on your own.
  • Explore the principles of maintaining a safety zone around your car, not getting involved in preventable accidents and identifying then minimising the risk of becoming the victim of an assault.

If you are attacked, report the incident to the police immediately and describe the event in as much detail as possible – remember who, what, when, where and any other details you feel might help, along with the attacker’s height, weight and any distinguishing features. That also applies to any vehicles involved; note the registration number, colour, make, model and year, as well as any marks or damage.

All this might seem too much of an ask for many drivers, but it’s worth remembering that most car-jackers arrested, notwithstanding the violence used or whether hostages were involved, said they just wanted to steal the car.  

The volatility of the driver and the suitable place selected for an attack was rarely predetermined.

Dr Ken German is a vehicle crime consultant to the police, automotive and insurance industries.

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