How many of you are afraid of carjackings?
It seems like the news breathlessly reports on them on a regular basis, and I see them as a common concern raised when folks are asked what worries them. I’m not today going to dive into whether or not you’re really likely to be a victim of a carjacking. Instead, I’m interested in exploring the sorts of strategies that would prevent you from being carjacked, even if you somehow end up in the kind of neighborhood where they’re happening all over. Obviously, the usual first step is to avoid those areas as much as possible, but what if you can’t? Then what?
Let’s start with the easy stuff: lock your doors. Whether you’re just running in to a gas station or parking for a longer period of time, you should be proactive about locking your doors. At the same time, try to keep valuables hidden away. That means thinking ahead and maybe being a little less visually proud of your various hobbies and interests, not to mention your family, by putting stickers about them on your vehicle. You’re not only trying to prevent theft, but from becoming interesting to anyone who might become interested in you because of what you show on your car. In most cases, car theft just means that someone wants to take things from you and leave the rest alone. It’s frankly much more common than carjacking, and locking your doors and stowing your expensive gear is a good first line defense against both. Making it automatic, and always only unlocking the single door you need unlocked – even if you’re just getting gas, for instance – means you’ll do it all the time. You’ll keep your stuff safe, and you’ll also prevent someone from hiding in your car or from opening one of your far doors when you’re busy dealing with a gas pump or something else in another entry into your car.
Then as soon as you get into your vehicle, hit the lock button right away. Most modern cars will automatically lock as soon as you shift into Drive or reach a certain speed. That doesn’t account for when you’re leaving your car or when you’ve just gotten into it, though. In those moments, you want to reduce the window of opportunity for someone nearby to open another door and pop in with you. While you should of course pay attention to who is around your car, you won’t always have the choice of waiting until everybody has gone away before you get in – and sometimes, that might not be the wisest move anyway, especially if you think someone is following you. Instead, make a habit out of getting into your car as efficiently as possible and getting the doors locked right away. That can be challenging if you’ve got your kids with you, or you’re finishing up a big shopping trip, so think ahead on how you can get everyone and everything into the car quickly and not get sucked into arranging everything perfectly instead of paying attention to what’s around you and how you can be inside a locked vehicle sooner rather than later. That might mean buckling seat belts and rearranging your shopping bags after closing the doors, and that’s okay.
Once you’re in, don’t hang out in a parked car, doors locked or not, for longer than necessary. It’s often tempting to spend a few minutes checking social media, responding to text messages, and setting up navigation to your next destination. You need to resist that urge as much as you can, even in your home driveway. Not only are you trapped inside your vehicle, you’re distracted while you’re tapping away at your cell phone. It’s not just the danger of not paying attention to who could be walking up to you, it’s the surprise factor of someone tapping on your window or trying to open one of your doors. When you’re startled like that, it’s easy to make natural decisions that could end up being dangerous – like rolling down a window and giving a bad guy a way to reach inside and hit or grab you. Instead, wait until you get somewhere inside and safer before checking in, and learn to use cell phone and smart car features like voice
When you’re driving – just drive. Keep your windows rolled up if you’re going to be in areas with foot traffic or if there’s some stop-and-go going on (I know, the idea sucks with warm weather on the way, but stick with me here). Don’t respond to people trying to get your attention. A common carjacking and insurance scam is to create reasons for you to get out of your car, such as a fender-bender type of accident. Similarly, fake cops are out there. Whether you’re in a residential neighborhood or a lightly-traveled highway, if you’re in a car accident and your vehicle is still drivable, think about where you pull over – or consider not doing it at all. You can always put on your emergency blinkers and get to a more highly visible area or call 911 for assistance. You might be afraid to not pull over for a police officer, but you can also call 911 then for confirmation that the car stopping you is legitimate, or to alert emergency services that you see the officer and are proceeding to a safer location first. You can also yell through your closed window to anyone who wants to communicate with you after you are stopped. All these things might seem paranoid – but they might also save your life. For us ladies in particular, use the stereotypical nervousness of women traveling alone to your advantage here.
If someone does actually approach or get into your car with ill intent, your first option is to simply drive away if you can. Perhaps obviously, that means making a habit of ensuring that you have space around your car to do so whenever possible, including not stopping all the way up behind the car in front of you at an intersection. Somewhat less obviously, you can do this even if a door is open, and even if they are partially inside the car. Will it hurt them? Maybe. So could any other weapon you could employ. If they’re already in your car, the best piece of advice that I have is to do as much as you can to not go somewhere else with them, and to leave as much of a trail as you can if you are forced to go. Make excuses to stop. Get seen by surveillance cameras like those at ATMs and many convenience stores. Dial your cell phone and leave it muted if you can. Bail out if you can. The bad guy may threaten you, even with a gun, but your chances of survival are best if you don’t end up wherever they want to take you.
But finally – remember that no matter how much the news screams about it, odds are pretty good that you’ll be okay. Whether that’s because you will have prevented being targeted at all, or because you will have ways to prevent an attack from going too far, you’ll be okay.