Vertical Markets

Carjacking and defensive driving

by Mark Rowe

Should I learn how to drive defensively in case my car is hijacked by thieves? is a question posed by the retired Met Police man and car crime prevention specialist Ken German.

As the Covid lockdown begins to ease and more traffic is allowed to use the road, car crime inevitably will also increase. With over 2.3 million road traffic offences committed last year and 113,000 cars reported stolen, one of the most worrying events on the road were those vehicles taken by way of robbery or ‘car-jacking’. An increase in these violent incidents when reported to police describes drivers being attacked and even dragged from their vehicles to steal their cars. It has concerned many police authorities and individuals, certainly enough to ask the question whether ‘anti attack’ training should be encouraged with drivers who use the roads in vulnerable areas at certain times.

Indeed the list of victims to this crime, now includes police officers, ambulance and fire engine crews who describe being overwhelmed by the speed and violence in which these malicious attacks happen and often in daylight with people around. Last weekend two teenage boys were arrested in Birmingham for kidnapping and hijacking a car from a victims’ driveway that still had the owner’s children aged two and four inside. West Midlands Police stated the Seat Leon was stopped 15 minutes later by armed officers on the A38 and rescued the children.

A week earlier a health worker was violently pulled and dragged from her Ford Focus car and threatened with a knife at a busy West Bromwich shopping centre car park whilst on her way home. The attacker initially escaped but was pursued along the A41 by the police, a stinger deployed and the man arrested. Another incident involved a 17-year-old who was dragged from his Vauxhall Corsa in Sparkbrook, also in the West Midlands by two men with a sledgehammer as ten witnesses looked on. (See West Midlands Police website for another case, in court recently.)

More horrifying was a 40-year-old woman in West Yorkshire who was dragged from the driver’s seat of her black Ford Kuga car in broad daylight on a busy road by a man who drove off in the vehicle which still had her three daughters, aged four, five and seven sitting in the back seats. The frantic woman managed to get to her feet and forced open the driver’s side door before it was slammed shut and the robbers drove away. Thankfully shortly afterwards the thieves stopped and left the three girls on a nearby street, in Leeds, West Yorkshire. The car was found burnt out an hour later not far away. A 26-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of robbery and remains in custody.

West Midlands police stated last year they were dealing with a carjacking epidemic and had made over 600 arrests of people in a matter of weeks involved in these crimes.

Not many of us are programmed for being assaulted at all and certainly not when we are stationary at traffic lights or parking in a car park where many of these incidents tend to occur. The very thought that we might now need to protect ourselves and our car on our journey to the office or a run to the shops is simply alien to most of us.

Defensive or anti attack driving is of course instinctive for all the top police drivers who are expert in emergency situations on the road. They can turn high speed pursuits into a rolling slalom and employ close proximity driving in a convoy formation whilst considering attack scenarios that would need hard U or Y type reverse turns with controlled skids all whilst giving a commentary to anyone on board who isn’t hanging on for dear life.

With the increasing frequency of these carjackings perhaps we really should consider taking better precautions on our journeys, perhaps understanding the risks and hazards of where we are going, noticing and recognising the threats before they happen and knowing the right action to take should we need to quickly steer ourselves away from danger.

But if we all do become situationally aware of potentially dangerous situations that would compromise our safety bubble we should be prepared to employ tactical evasive driving procedures. That could visibly change the demographic of normal traffic movement on the road to something rather surreal where drivers are seen constantly ‘eyeballing’ each other, preparing for a potential escape scenario and driving at a greater distance behind the vehicle in front in case it suddenly makes a strange manoeuvre, reverses into you or forces you off the road.

Clearly this is not anything you really want to try when you have your kids and the dog in the back of your family car; that said if you have a ‘nice’ car then it is possible you could be involved in a ‘car napping’ as it’s also becoming known. Extreme courses covering all of the skills needed to prepare you for such a horrible event are available on the internet and some are clearly more extreme than others.

These include surveillance and threat detection, evasive action skills and hard core anti ambush and high jack manoeuvres in moving vehicles, in all weathers and road surfaces in both left and right hand drive cars which should see you through traffic in downtown Johannesburg in South Africa or High Street Sao Paulo in Brazil with just the minimum of bullet holes.

In the UK what should we look for by those experienced in such matters?

Carjackings are known to occur more often in inner city areas noted for its high crime rate and at corners and junctions where vehicles regularly stop. Tactics used by the thugs include bumping your car so that when you stop and get out and speak to the other driver who might be feigning injury, his accomplice jumps in and drives away. The key in the victims pocket is still close enough for their car to be started.

A gang (since imprisoned) once used this method solely on Land Rover owners.

Beware of cars that are ‘clearly’ following you as they may intend to block you in and isolate in a driveway or Cul de Sac in bid to steal your car when you get out.

Take care if you are flashed to pull over by what you take to be an unmarked police car. Keep the doors locked and windows shut until the ‘police’ have showed you warrant cards! Also be wary of cars flashing lights and waving hoping you will have a fault with your car. If it doesn’t feel right then don’t stop.

Get in the habit of locking your car doors and keep your windows and sun roofs closed in vulnerable areas and always leave at least a vehicle and a half space between you and the car directly in front of you in order you can quickly manoeuvre around the vehicle and make your way to safety. Don’t get boxed in. Use your mirrors and note what is around you but remember non-confrontation is always the best response.

It would be good to learn how a skid feels and then how to control it Useful too would be using the hand brake to quickly perform a 90 or 180 degree turn at the same time.

Treat with caution all unusual roadblocks, hang back at traffic lights where groups of youths have congregated and consider rerouting quickly if the youths are standing in the road looking at you.

Beware of assisting a broken down vehicle on a lonely road particularly if you are on your own.

We need to explore the principles of keeping space, identifying risk, keeping visible and not get involved in preventable driving accidents and minimise the risk of a personal attack.

If you are attacked report the incident to the police immediately. Describe to them the event in as much detail as possible – remember who, what, when, where and any details can help.

Try to recall the attacker’s height, weight, and any distinguishable features – be it eye colour, facial hair, tattoos, scars, hair colour, build and complexion. Describe the attacker’s vehicle such as the licence plate number, colour, make, model, and year, as well as any marks like scratches, dents, damage, or personalisation.

Clearly getting confidence in route planning, controlled anticipation with a broader ability to detect potential threats backed by an evasive action plan, whilst avoiding road rage, having a better understanding of car control in volatile conditions and other drivers attitudes in general all whilst conforming to the Highway Code rules of the road, will be simply too much of an ask for many drivers.

That said, most of those arrested for this crime, notwithstanding the violence used or whether hostages were involved, agreed they just wanted to steal the car. The volatility of the driver and the suitable place for attack was rarely predetermined.

About the author

Ken is a board member of the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators (IAATI) UK chapter. Visit https://www.iaati.org/about.

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