Your driveway or a traffic intersection, your car, a guy with a gun. Sound unlikely? It shouldn’t. It happens to South Africans every day.
It has become difficult to steal cars with the many anti-theft security devices in use. It is simply easier to steal a car that has someone in it who has the keys and/or the immobiliser on them.
Sometimes there's nothing you can do. If two or three cars hem you in at an intersection, and hijackers jump out with guns, resisting could be fatal. Try and avoid notorious intersections, limit night-time driving as far as you can, but unless you never leave home again, unfortunately you are at risk.
There are some things you can do to limit the risk, though and to try and prevent injuries. The following tips were given by the South African Police Services:
Check out the scene. When you walk towards your car, look around you. Check if you're being followed, especially if you've just come from the bank or the airport. If you're not sure whether someone is following you, go past your car, or go into a shop or other establishment. Keep your keys ready in your hand when you do approach your car, so you don't waste time looking for them.
Loading can distract you. Many people get hijacked when they're loading stuff into their cars. Don't leave the car open while you're loading stuff into the boot. Your attention is distracted and you are an easy hijacking target. Rather pay for parking in well-lit and busy parking garages, than trying to save a few rands by parking in the middle of nowhere. When you're at home, don't offload stuff until you're securely inside your property. If you think there's any danger, leave the stuff in the car and get to the safety of your house as quickly as possible.
Lock up behind you. Once inside the car, lock the doors immediately and start the car. Don’t open windows wide enough to allow a hand to fit through. If you think someone might be following you, don’t go home, but drive to the nearest police station or well-lit place where there are security guards and many other people. Petrol station are open 24 hours a day and many of them have CCTV cameras, which might put hijackers off.
Keep to the middle. When approaching an intersection, drive in the centre lane to make it harder for people to approach you. Leave enough space between yourself and the car in front that you can manoeuvre around it. If you are right behind the car in front of you, you can easily be hemmed in even by just one car coming from behind.
Check behind you. Monitor all vehicles travelling behind you. There could be more than one vehicle involved and they could be setting a trap for you. If you think you are in danger, attract the attention of other motorists or pedestrians. Use the hooter, flash your lights, put on your emergency lights and shout. People might try and help you or they might not - but at least you tried.
Fender-bender fiasco. If your car has been hit from behind, stay in your car. Once you are sure it’s not a hijacking, get out and inspect the damage. Hijackers often dent a car slightly in order to get the driver out of it.
Stranger danger. If a suspicious person approaches you, especially at night or in a deserted area, drive off quickly from a stop street or intersection, but do pay careful attention to the traffic.
Traffic light terror. Be on the lookout for anyone approaching your car, or lingering at traffic lights, stop streets, parking areas or driveways. Don’t be distracted by vendors or people handing out flyers at intersections. Many hijackings happen at traffic intersections.
Samaritans can get robbed. Accident scenes can sometimes be set up as a trap. Don’t stop unless you are convinced it is real. Use your cellphone to report the accident. It has happened in the past that ‘injured passengers’ turn out to be hijackers. If you are unsure of what to do and you don't have your cellphone on you, drive to the nearest police station and report the incident.
Coming and going. Ensure that the area around your gate is well-lit. When opening your garage door or gates, don’t leave your car door open and the engine running. Criminals can act much faster than you expect. Many hijackings occur while victims wait for the gate to open. If there are suspicious-looking people hanging around, drive round the block or phone your security company and get them to escort you in. Don’t take any chances, especially late at night and early in he morning. Those are favourite hijacking times.
Roadblocks for real? If you encounter an unusual or unexpected roadblock, keep your windows closed and doors locked. Ask the police or traffic officer for an identity card. Show them your identity document through the window.
The real thing. If you are being hijacked, try to stay calm, follow instructions, but look scared. The hijacker wants to feel he has power over you. Don't stare at the hijacker – this could be interpreted as defiance. Don't argue, or scream, especially if you suspect the hijacker may have a weapon. Rather give up your car. It's worth a lot less than your life.
No sudden moves. If you need to reach inside your pocket or bag to get something the hijacker wanted, warn your hijacker beforehand, but make sure that he can see your hands at all times. Answer all questions truthfully and ask the hijacker to repeat something if you do not understand.
Don’t be a cowboy. Do everything to convince the hijacker that you are co-operating. If you annoy a hijacker, he may take out his aggression on either you or your passengers.
Follow instructions. If you are told to get out of the car, wait for the hijacker to open the door or wait until instructed to do so. Open the door slowly with one hand keep the other hand visible. Once outside slowly move away from the car so as not to appear as a threat.
Take note. Make mental notes of the hijacker’s appearance, how many there are of them and any of their physical characteristics that stand out. This could help you later in identifying them.
Child alert. If there is a sleeping child in the back seat, alert the hijackers. Reassure them that the child is not a threat and would make things difficult for them. Wait until instructed to release the child.
PIN numbers. If you are forced to accompany the hijacker in your car, this is usually to make sure that no anti-hijacking devices are triggered. If they ask for PIN numbers on cards, give it to them. Set the limit of cash you can draw on one day quite low, as this will limit the amount of money that can be stolen in one go from you.
Once the hijacker has gone, get away from the area as quickly as possible, and get to a phone to call for help.
Other safety hints
Never walk around alone and don’t talk to strangers. Be on the lookout for strange cars or people.
Make sure your home is secure, and become a member of an armed response service. Be sure that you know all the emergency numbers or have them displayed in an accessible area.
Always let someone know where you are going and how long you will be gone. But think twice before advertising your impending absence on social media. Criminals also have access to Facebook and Twitter.
Take self-defence lessons. This should show you how to defend yourself, but also how to minimise injury in a potentially life-threatening situation.
(Leandra Engelbrecht, Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated November 2013)