“Hijacking 101: What you need to know”
Imagine pulling into your driveway after a long day’s work, and being ambushed by a gang of armed men. They point guns at you and shout for you get out the car. As horrifying as it is to think about, this scene happens every day in South Africa.
Hijackers often target residents in their own driveways, most commonly on a Friday. Sometimes, they dress as police officers. Other times, they take a license plate off your car and pretend to be a Good Samaritan following you to give it back. Most often, they will force your car off the road or simply force you out with brute force. Their methods may vary but the result is often the same, a stolen car and a serious case of Post-Traumatic Stress. Sometimes, lives are lost.
Every South African has heard about car hijackings, but for those of us with cars, do we know how to prevent them and what to do if you are hijacked? In this article, we will look at some of the things you must know about hijacking, including how to prevent hijacking and how to protect yourself in the event of a hijacking.
Hijacking in South Africa:
Hijacking has become more prevalent as security features on new cars become more advanced and cars become more difficult to steal. Between 2013 and 2014, there were 11221 reported hijackings. That is around 30 cars per day, hijacked. And these are only the reported cases.
Most hijackings occur between 4pm and 9pm. According to Tracker, a company specialising in the recovery of stolen vehicles, most happen in driveways as people are arriving home. Many occur in broad daylight and even in peak traffic.
What was once mostly a Gauteng problem is now becoming more common in other cities around the country. The Western Cape had an increase of 20% in the number of hijackings between 2013 and 2014.
Preventing hijackings: what you can do
Let us look at some of the ways you can protect yourself and your family from becoming another hijacking statistic.
• Awareness: Your cell phone may just be your greatest downfall when it comes to awareness. Put it away while you are parking or stopped at robots and pay attention to your surroundings. Pay extra attention when you are stopping or have come to a stop. A large proportion of hijackings happen in car parks. Drivers who are using phones or listening to loud music are more vulnerable.
• Defensive driving: Driving defensively means anticipating worst-case scenarios, constantly. Create a buffer zone of space around your car so you can manoeuvre out of a situation if you need to. Splurging on a defensive driving course is money well spent!
• Secure your driveway: Make sure your driveway is well lit and has no nooks and crannies where would-be hijackers could hide. Install anti-lift brackets on your automatic gate if possible. Good home security can prevent hijackers who might have targeted you from your driveway. Pay extra attention when arriving home and pulling into your driveway.
• Smart parking: Always park your vehicle as close to the entrance as you can, in well-lit areas. Reversing into a parking bay will give you added speed in the event of an ambush.
• Regard anyone loitering around your car with suspicion.
• Other precautions you should take include; keeping your cell phone in your pocket and, most obviously, driving with all doors locked. You can find a comprehensive list of hijack prevention tips on the Arrive Alive website.
Preparing for a would-be hijacking is also important, particularly if you have children. Rehearse what might happen and how you will respond. Teach children to exit the vehicle safely if they are old enough to do so. This does not only benefit the kids, if you have rehearsed beforehand, it is easier to put into practise in the heat of the moment. It is exceptionally difficult to think straight when there is a gun pointed to your head.
Experts recommend placing the youngest child on the passenger side of the backseat. This will allow you to reach back and free them in the event of a hijacking.
If you are hijacked: what to do
You can do everything right and still be hijacked. To reduce the possibility of violence, you need to surrender immediately. Put your hands up, do not make eye contact and follow any instructions given to you. Tell the hijackers what you are doing and do not make any sudden movements. The overwhelming majority of expert advice is to obey the hijackers and do as they say.
If you are able to, get a look at the perpetrators (surreptitiously), it will help to notice any distinguishing features. Try to get as many details as you can without being obvious.
If you have children in the car, The Automobile Association advises that you tell the hijackers and as calmly as possible ask if you may reach for the child. Furthermore, the AA advises stating that the child poses no threat. If you are forced out of the car, hang on to the key to use as leverage until they release the child. Children who are old enough to open the car door and climb out should be taught to do so beforehand.
Until something drastic is done to curb the hijacking problem in our country, we ordinary citizens will need to remain vigilant and employ defence tactics to keep safe when driving in our vehicles. If you want to learn more about prevention measures you can take, sign up for a course at the National Hijack Prevention Academy. Courses are offered countrywide and include modules on awareness and defensive driving.