Falling victim to a vehicle hijacking is one of the most traumatising experiences a person could go through, and South Africans face this threat each and every day. You've got a gun in your face, you've been caught completely off guard and, worst-case scenario, you may even have other lives to be concerned about in the moment.
According to the latest crime stats, over 16 000 incidents of hijacking were reported over the 2018/2019 period. With crime ever on the rise, there are some places, for example, where people believe it’s safer to run a red light at night than to stop. Hijackers, though, have grown far more brazen these days, often operating in broad daylight or in plain view of other people.
So, South Africans need to be aware of the dangers, the latest hijacking trends, and again, worst-case scenario, how to take control of terrifying, life-threatening situations.
Let's take a look at the latest and most common tactics being used by criminals.
While knowing how to handle yourself in these situations could certainly save your life, it is equally important to be able to identify threats, and so avoid them entirely. For that reason, it is crucially important to be aware of the latest hijacking and crime trends.
Be vigilant when finding yourself in the following situations. Always be aware of your surroundings, and be on the lookout for any suspicious behaviour.
Drivers are approached by criminals at petrol stations while filling their tanks. They approach from the driver’s blind spot and force the driver out of the vehicle.
Remain vigilant while filling up, especially at night or at quiet petrol stations. Keep your doors locked and only open your window when it’s time to pay. Watch your blind spots at all times.
Motorists are approached in social areas such as bars or clubs by strangers, who then attempt to befriend them. They then spike the driver’s drink, steal the car keys and vanish with the vehicle.
Don’t trust anybody who offers you a drink out of the blue, and likewise, never accompany strangers who suggest that you leave with them to a different venue.
Another new tactic that has been making the rounds is particularly crafty, involving the criminal approaching a visibly busy venue, such as a wedding reception or a bar / restaurant to claim that a car (of specific description and licence plate) has parked their own vehicle in, or the owner has left the lights on, etc.
Once the owner of the vehicle has been found and notified, they're promptly relieved of said vehicle when venturing out alone with the criminal.
Bring a friend, even when it seems harmless.
Motorists are pulled over by criminals posing as police or traffic officials. This often occurs with unmarked vehicles, kitted out with nothing but a blue light. Upon pulling over, the driver is, at minimum, overpowered and relieved of their vehicle.
Many South Africans are unaware of their rights when being pulled over by the police, and it's important to keep the following in mind:
Motorists are legally bound to stop for uniformed officers who pull them over to the side of the road. If you’re unsure, especially in the case of an unmarked vehicle or the lack of uniform, the best course of action is to remain calm, turn on your hazard lights to indicate that you are willing to cooperate, and drive to the nearest police station or safe public area.
This is commonly known as the Blue Light Protocol, and if the officers are indeed genuine officers of the law, they're supposed to follow you.
Unfortunately, though, several instances have recently been reported in which traffic officials have failed to ackonwledge this - particularly depicted in one widely circulated video of a woman being violently manhandled by officers of the Tshwane Metro Police Department at a petrol station after electing to follow the Blue Light Protocol instead of immediately pulling over.
Violent instances involving criminal 'blue light gangs' have been growing in frequency and intensity over the years, and, as stated by Justice Project SA's Howard Dembovsky:
With motorists frequently being threatened, beaten up and even shot at and killed by overzealous law enforcement officials in South Africa, it places us in a difficult situation. Stop your vehicle under unsafe circumstances, and risk your life, or stop your vehicle under safer circumstances, and risk your life all the same.
Vehicle owners are overpowered during a home invasion and the vehicles are taken, along with all of their other valuables.
Or, hijackers follow the victim home and will attempt to box the driver in as they enter the property. They will then block the security gate from closing behind them and hijack the victim in their own driveway.
When home, keep your gates locked, know where your panic buttons are, and keep your vehicle’s keys out of sight and in a safe place.
Sufficient lighting at the entrance to your property gives criminals one less place to lurk. Be aware of suspicious vehicles following you, and if you suspect that you are being tailed, make a couple of false turns and, if need be, drive to the nearest police station.
Always approach your driveway in a way that makes it easier for you to escape, should another vehicle stop behind you - such as parking in the street while waiting for your gate to open, instead of in the driveway.
While instances of hijacking have increased nationwide in general, there is one particular statistic that proves difficult to stomach.
Vehicle recovery firm, Tracker, recently reported that it had seen an increase in hostage-taking during hijackings from last year, with an average of 29% of activations resulting in a hostage being taken.
Motorists, particularly those travelling alone or in high-crime areas, need to be more vigilant than ever. Be aware when in public areas such as malls, hospitals, gyms, stadiums, schools and even places of worship. The more crowded, the better. Watch out for signal jamming, and the like, and always make sure that your vehicle is properly locked before walking away. Do not leave any valuables in plain sight.
Hijackers will also pose as beggars, hawkers or window cleaners. Most of us have encountered these people at the traffic lights who point to our wheels or the front of our car, as if to indicate that there's something wrong with it. In most cases, this is just a ploy to get you to roll down your window, or to get you out of your car to inspect the vehicle. Don't fall for this. If you're unsure of the state of your vehicle, drive away and stop in a safe place to check.
Never, ever drive over anything laying in the middle of the road. Something as innocent as an orange could be loaded with nails, just waiting to burst your tyre. Unfortunately, hijackers will also stoop so low as to hurl objects in front of your car while driving, and that's far more difficult to avoid.
Hijackers will also tamper with the car's mechanical components, force the victim off the road using another vehicle, create fake ‘stop and go’ set-ups, pose as victims of a hijacking themselves and ask for help, steal cars from vehicle-sellers during a meet-up, and even (in the case of ride-sharing drivers in particular) pose as passengers waiting to be picked up.
Here are some (fairly logical) tips to stay safe:
So many people go about their driving on auto-pilot these days. Criminals both recognise and take advantage of this complacency, especially on Fridays when we tend to be at our most unaware.
Avoid distractions, stay alert, remember the trends, and it may just save you a great deal of money - or even your life.
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