Jun 302013
A very scary confrontation, but if you resist, the odds are in your favor.

A very scary confrontation, but if you resist, the odds are in your favor.

We regularly write about the dangers that lurk in places where we feel comfortable and safe, for the simple reason that we do feel comfortable and safe in such places, and so we relax and are no longer as alert and aware as we are when in unfamiliar and clearly higher risk locations.

The most extreme example of this is our home, and we’ve lots of articles on how you need to maintain a level of caution even while at home.  So, rather than beat that drum one more time, today we’ll look at another place we often allow ourselves to feel ‘too safe’ in – our car.  That perception is inappropriate, and there are several key areas of risk.

In this first part of a two-part article, we look at the main risk factors associated with carjacking type crime – the places where you are most vulnerable and/or most distracted.  Understanding the risks brings you a large part of the way to reducing the risks, and (of course) we talk about specific strategies to protect yourself from carjacking in the second part of the article series.

Carjacking Risks

One of the greatest areas of risk and vulnerability is when we approach our vehicle in a parking lot.  Think about this – other cars and vans around you obscure you and other people from view.  Your sight lines are blocked, and someone can suddenly appear from where they were hiding behind an adjacent vehicle and do whatever they choose, not only catching you by surprise, but also doing whatever they wish largely hidden from other people.

Plus, in such encounters, you’re seldom in a good tactical position to quickly respond to threats.  There you are, returning to your car, perhaps carrying some shopping bags in one hand, and looking for your keys with your other hand or maybe even fumbling with the remote control to unlock your vehicle.  Perhaps you have children with you too, or perhaps you’re on the phone or texting.

If you’re at all aware of your surroundings, you are primarily focused on cars that are driving around or about to suddenly back out of their parking spots.  You expect there to be other people in the parking lot too, and so if you vaguely notice people around you, that is accepted as normal and you don’t really concentrate on their presence.

As distracted as you are, and as awkwardly ill-prepared as you are with groceries in one hand and car keys in the other, if someone suddenly appears in front of you with a gun or knife, the chances are you’re taken completely by surprise and unable to respond appropriately.

And that’s only the start of your vulnerabilities – as you approach your vehicle.  How about your continued vulnerabilities as you unlock it, open doors, lean in to stow shopping bags in your trunk, and so on?

Maybe you have young children with you – that’s a major distraction right from the get-go, of course!  So there you are, talking with little Johnny while also trying to strap little Susie into her car seat.  Are you also focused on your surroundings and ready to defend you and your children from any threats?  Almost certainly not!

The reverse scenario applies when you are parking your car too, of course, although our sense is that more carjacking encounters occur when people return to their car rather than when they get out of it.  You’re again focused on many different distractors, primarily to do with finding a good park and positioning your car reasonably within the space, you’re unlikely to be also judging the threat levels in your environment at the same time.

Okay, let’s assume you’ve safely driven to the local mall, done your shopping, and safely returned back to your vehicle.  You get in and drive away.  End of problems, right?


Is your door locked?  Is your window open?  What about the other doors and windows, too?  Is your pistol readily retrievable at short notice, or is the safety belt covering your pistol and restricting your access to it?

Think about this.  You pull up to a stop sign or stop light and someone suddenly appears alongside your car and either opens your door or sticks a gun in through the window.  You’re restrained by your seat belt and there’s no way you can effectively respond.

Another scenario.  You have a minor fender bender.  You were driving along, stopped for a light, and the car behind failed to stop in time, and ends up giving your car a little ‘love tap’.  Or maybe the car in front of you stopped suddenly, you managed to stop in time, but the car behind you hit you.  You curse to yourself, quickly run through a checklist in your mind ‘Was it my fault, and what do I do now?’, reach for your insurance card, and get out of the car to meet the other driver, who has got out of his car and is staring at your bumper and his bumper in dismay.

But when you get to the other driver does he then suddenly pull a weapon and demand your wallet, and who knows what else?

One more scenario.  You stopped at the local convenience store or gas station, sensibly took the keys out of your vehicle, rushed in to buy a pint of milk or whatever, came back out a couple of minutes later, got back in your car and then suddenly discovered – surprise!  Someone had let themselves in to your unlocked vehicle and was hiding in the back seat, and now holds you up.

Whichever of these various scenarios may apply, the bottom line is the same.  You’ve just been carjacked.

Carjacking Facts and Figures

It is very difficult to know how common carjacking is, because there isn’t a formal crime of carjacking, and so different police departments report such crimes in different ways.  Indeed, as the different examples above showed, carjacking is a vague term that we are using to refer to any sort of crime involving you in or around your car.  It ranges from assault and robbery to potentially rape, assault and even murder, and of course also includes vehicle theft.

Due to this broad range of different threats and actions and outcomes, it is hard to come up with exact statistics, and because not all carjackings are even reported to the police in the first place, these issues become even more extreme (it seems that one in four carjackings is never reported to the police, usually because the attempt was unsuccessful).  But you can readily and easily understand situations that place you, while in or close to your car, at elevated risk.

There have been some formal carjacking studies done, with the most recent one we’ve found dating back to a 2004 study of statistics covering the period 1993 – 2002.  It makes for interesting reading.

According to this study, most carjackings occur in big cities or suburbs (but that’s also where most people live and work, so no big surprise).  Firearms were used in 45% of carjackings, although one in every four carjackings involved an attacker with no apparent weapons of any sort at all.

Bearing our another of our repeated warnings, 56% of the time, a carjacking involved two or more carjackers.  Whenever you are confronted by one assailant, you always need to be planning for encountering his accomplices.

Most carjackers are black males.

Carjackings are twice as likely to occur at night than during the day.  This is unsurprising, because the carjackers can operate ‘under cover of darkness’.  It is harder to see them prior to them making their move, harder to recognize them in the half-light if you need to subsequently identify them, and easier for them to make good on their escape, whether in your car (in the less heavy evening traffic) or on foot.

Carjackings are more likely to occur on a public street (44%) than in a parking lot (24%).

Perhaps the most surprising fact in this study is that only 45% of attempted carjackings succeeded.  This is great news and something to seize upon.  Just because you find yourself in the early stages of a carjacking does not mean that it is predestined to proceed to a negative conclusion.

Furthermore, while 32% of carjacking victims were injured, only 17% of people involved in attempted carjackings were injured.  Resisting would seem to be twice as safe as giving in and cooperating.

The odds are in your favor, and also show it is better to resist than to give in.  So don’t give up and give in.  Instead, respond as best you can and fight back.  More on that in the next part of this two-part article.