Despite a general decline in violent crime, carjackings are on the rise across the United States. That would be a pun if I were talking about the equipment that comes with your car to lift it off the ground so that you can change a tire.
But, no, I’m talking about the federal and state crime of carjacking, or, as they’re known in law enforcement circles, home invasions on wheels. It’s a crime that does more damage in a community than just the property loss, because it not only traumatizes the victim, it also scares residents. If there are too many of them in one area, people will not buy homes or do business in that area. Many carjackings involve an armed perpetrator so if you don’t know what to do, you can get yourself (or a passenger) killed!
All the new security electronics hard-wired into cars in recent years makes it tough to steal a car the old fashioned way: by hot-wiring it. Now thieves must take them as they roll. And they’ve developed some pretty devious ways to get you to let your guard down so they can take advantage of you.
Usually working in teams of two or more, they’ll get behind you in traffic and hit you when you stop for a traffic light. When you get out to check damage and exchange information with the driver, an accomplice approaches you from the passenger side and sticks a gun in your ribs while the partner hops in your driver’s seat just as the light changes. The accomplice whacks you over the head, gets in the other car, and they speed away. It all transpires in under a minute or two and, if you are lucky (and the men are not trigger happy) you are left crumpled in the middle of the road wondering what the heck just happened!
You call the police, but when interviewed, you really can’t describe either of the men other than guessing their age, describing their hair and skin color. You won’t notice the color of their eyes, or how tall they are, because you were instructed by the man with the gun to close your eyes and not directly look at them. Police know that the majority of eye-witnesses are unreliable anyway, so your description may or may not be credible.
Sometimes carjackers stage an accident, and when you stop to help, they steal your ride, pack up and move on. Or they may flash their lights, wave frantically and point at your car making you think something’s wrong with your vehicle, only to steal it from you when you stop to check. They will even have someone lie down in the middle of the road pretending to be injured to get you to stop. Since most carjackers tend to be younger than other thieves, women (especially moms) will want to stop and assist a kid who needs help. Next thing you know, they’ve cracked your skull, stolen your purse (because you left it in the car) and you’re the one laying in the street needing assistance. Proving the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished.
Alleys are the preferred locations for carjackers, because they can block both ends. Next are gas stations, especially small mom and pop shops which are less likely to have state-of-the-art lighting or security cameras. Long valet lines outside restaurants provide easy pickings if a thief is looking for luxury cars at an expensive eatery or vans or SUVs with third-row seating in a family restaurant parking lot. Third on the list is residential driveways, especially gated ones, because the driver can be blocked from behind and their car stolen before the gate opens fully. Other locations include liquor stores, mall parking structures, large, and poorly-lit parking lots.
It’s hard to track instances of the carjacking because states categorize the crime differently. Many lump the crime in with other vehicle thefts. If a weapon is used, they’ll classify it as an armed robbery. Penalties also vary by state and jurisdiction. Louisiana, which has open-carry firearms laws, has deemed it justifiable homicide if you shoot and kill someone trying to carjack you. Other states would charge you with voluntary manslaughter at the very least if you did that, because of the common law maxim that holds the preservation of life and limb from harm is more important to society than the protection of property, no matter how pricey.
Carjacking became a federal crime in 1993. A particularly heinous act spurred Congress to action: In 1992, two men forced Pamela Basu from her BMW sedan. Trying to save her baby who was in a car seat in the back, she became entangled in her seatbelt which was hanging outside the car. The men took off in the BMW, dragging Basu for over a mile before dislodging her from the seatbelt by dragging the woman full-speed into a fence post, which resulted in her
death. The men threw the infant onto the street as well, but the little girl survived without injury. When revising the law in 1994, Congress added the death penalty as a possible punishment.
Approximately 50,000 violent carjackings occur annually in the United States, most in the target-rich environment of major metropolitan areas. But don’t think you’re safe just because you live in a suburb or small town. Carjackings happen everywhere. It’s a crime of opportunity. Studies have shown that men, who tend to drive nicer cars, are twice as likely as women to be carjacking victims (we prefer function over flash), but when women are the victims, carjacking is often the lesser of the crimes committed. Carjacking is also used as a means to facilitate sex- trafficking and sexual assault, and may also be the culmination or a component of prolonged domestic violence. Data suggests that carjackings of women drivers at their residences are more frequent between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The most disturbing aspect of this crime is the age of the majority of perpetrators. Most carjackers are under the age of 21. Like baby rattlesnakes, who release all of their venom and not just what is necessary to kill its prey, young men with guns are more deadly than their older counterparts, because they are new to the criminal life, are less afraid of being caught, feel that they are untouchable and invincible, and are also more prone toward glorifying violence. These young men may be part of an on-going criminal enterprise, such as a street gang, an auto theft/chop shop operation or a sex-trafficking ring. They do not care about anything but getting your car, not even if there’s a child in it. And far too many are willing to kill to get it.
So, how do you tilt the odds of survival in your favor? There are some simple things you can do to minimize your risk of becoming a victim:
- Be alert and aware of your surroundings. Don’t text as you walk to your car across a parking lot, or engage in other distractions that opportunists can use to gain the upper hand. Keep your keys in hand so they can be used as a weapon, and your phone in an easy-to-reach place for calling 911.
- Park in well-lighted areas, as close to the location’s entrance as possible, especially if you are alone.
- This should be a no-brainer, but avoid unfamiliar or high crime areas whenever possible.
- Avoid isolated and/or less-well-trafficked parking lots, ATMs, pay phones, and convenience stores
- When in the vehicle, keep windows up and doors locked. This is tougher in warmer late spring and summer months, and that’s why more carjackings happen during this time than any other. Running the AC to keep cool may burn more fuel, but isn’t your life worth more than the additional expense?
- If you take away nothing else from this article, remember this: If you are carjacked, do not fight. Just give up the car. People think mace will save them, and in some instances it might. It can also blow back into your face, depending on wind direction, and further immobilize you for other dastardly deeds and make an already bad situation much, much worse. Unless you are a well-trained markswoman, who can draw, remove the safety, aim and fire in one smooth, undetectable motion, a gun probably won’t do you much good either. In all likelihood, your assailant has one pointed at you already, and these encounters are extremely brief, though it will seem like an eternity. He will probably kill you the second you go for your weapon. So, avoid resisting. Give them what they want. If you do that, odds are you will survive the encounter.
Be careful out there. Don’t become a faceless statistic. The life you save may be your own!
Your MotorQueen Safety Maven
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) releases an annual Hot Wheels report which identifies the 10 most stolen vehicles in the United States. The report examines vehicle theft data submitted by law enforcement to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and determines the vehicle make, model and model year most reported stolen in 2014 (the most recent year with compiled data).
These are total vehicles stolen, whether through carjacking or other means.
For 2014, the most stolen vehicles overall in the nation were (total thefts in parentheses):
- Honda Accord (51,290)
- Honda Civic (43,936)
- Ford Pickup (Full Size) (28,680)
- Chevrolet Pickup (Full Size) (23,196)
- Toyota Camry (14,605)
- Dodge Pickup (Full Size) (11,075)
- Dodge Caravan (10,483)
- NissanAltima (9,109)
- AcuraIntegra (6,902)
- Nissan Maxima (6,586)
The following are the top 10 2014 model year vehicles stolen during calendar year 2014 (total thefts in parentheses):
- Ford Pickup (Full Size) (964)
- Toyota Camry (869)
- Ford Fusion (819)
- Chevrolet Impala (746)
- Nissan Altima (687)
- Dodge Charger (680)
- Taotao Industry Co. Scooter/Moped (592)
- Toyota Corolla (578)
- Chevrolet Cruze (566)
- Ford Focus (505)